Media Resonance in a Hyper-Partisan America


In the midst of impeachment hearings, a presidential candidates debate and, yes, Thanksgiving recipe planning, interesting results from a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Opinion Research and USAFacts may have quietly fallen under the radar.

The poll examined whether Americans think some core functions of our democracy – namely the media and our political leaders – are providing information that is based in fact. In this hyper-partisan environment, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that just 14% of the country think decisions made by lawmakers are always or at least often based in fact. That number drops to 9% for those running for political office. No wonder it has become a pretty well-established fact that people just don’t like Washington politicians.

More notably, though, is the continued decline in the public trust of the media. Set aside the opinion pages. While there will be outliers, most news reporters are dedicated to providing timely, interesting AND accurate information. This view now appears to be in the minority. The media fares better than politicians, but not by much. Just 14% of Americans think media reporting is always or often based in fact. At the same time, nearly one-third of survey respondents indicated that reporting is rarely or never based in fact. The rest fall somewhere in between. This distrust of the media has no doubt been fueled, at least in part, by the relentless attacks on its credibility – fair or unfair – by political leaders.

But all this begs the question: With faith in the media waning, should companies and organizations abandon earned media opportunities? Should we, as communicators, even bother working to tell our stories through the mainstream press? The short answer is yes, and more.

It’s important to keep in mind that the media still resonates with a sizable portion of Americans. People are reading, listening and watching the news perhaps more than ever. They are doing so, though, with much more scrutiny and skepticism – and on more platforms than ever. Media coverage still has significant value, and this new research speaks to the need to lean on multiple communications channels to get your story out. That means working with the media, creating an audience online and talking directly to them, or doing the laborious on-the-ground grasstops/grassroots work that informs influencers and their constituents alike. To truly persuade audiences, the most effective campaigns are the ones that take the proverbial all-of-the-above approach and tell an authentic story across credible channels.

Now, back to Thanksgiving planning. Just don’t ask us to fact check your dinner table arguments.