Negative Partisanship Turns Partisans Against the Media

In the backdrop of one of the most polarized, negative presidential elections in American history, it should shock no one that studies show partisans now loathe their opponents more than ever.

According to Pew Research Center’s assessment of the political atmosphere in 2016, “negative feelings about the opposing party are as powerful – and in many cases more powerful – as are positive feelings about one’s own party,” from both a policy standpoint and a personal one as well.

When Pew asked the study’s participants to “rate several groups on a 0-100 ‘thermometer’ – where 0 is the coldest, most negative rating and 100 represents the warmest, most positive rating – Republicans and Democrats give very low ratings to the people in the opposing party.”

Increased partisan loyalty, uniformity, and growing opposition resentment has been coined by political scientists as negative partisanship. Many attribute the phenomenon’s prevalence to ever increasing racial, cultural, regional and ideological divisions in society, as well as political identification.

Relatedly, the hostile media effect is a theory that explains overly defensive reactions from partisans when given evidence that runs contrary to their world view and existing beliefs – increasing the divide between partisans even further, and creating a distrust between partisans and media organizations that burst their proverbial bubble.

Many pundits also believe that the rise of negative partisanship, ideological uniformity and societal cleavages account for growing political antipathy, as well as unexpected voting behavior.

“Donald Trump played to pent-up voter frustration with establishment leaders across the political spectrum” – possibly suggesting that as a political outsider, Donald Trump appealed to a broad demographic of ideologically unconvicted individuals fed up with polarized, establishment politics,” said Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University in an interview with PBS NewsHour.

Given this increasing party-line hatred and political antipathy in America, one would expect that the media’s role to bridge the ideological gap or to provide objective truth to viewers that everyone can agree on – but that’s not the case.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 52 percent of Americans trust the media over Donald Trump – with only a slim 13 percent of Republicans trusting the media over Trump’s rhetoric. On the other hand, 86 percent of Democrats claimed to trust the media over the current president.

Studies like this Quinnipiac poll suggest that negative partisanship coupled with the hostile media effect impacts media perception. Given that media favorability was split on party lines, the evidence suggests that partisans are intolerant towards anything – media, facts, and public officials – that contradict their worldview now more so than ever.

While the media may have other systemic problems it needs to address to serve a broader America, political trust in the media in particular seems to be split on partisan lines – and by no fault of the media.

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