When President-elect Donald Trump rails against the “dishonest” media, roughly half of Americans agree with his premise — that the press treats him unfairly. But even more people think Trump is unfair to the media.
Those are among the results of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which showed that 47 percent of Americans generally view media coverage of Trump as unfair; 49 percent say coverage is fair (plus-2, baby!) but the poll's margin of error is 3.5 points. Call it an even split.
Public opinion is clearer on Trump's treatment of the media: 57 percent characterize it as unfair, and just 38 percent call it fair. That's a 19-point gap.
So why, you might ask, does Trump keep up a fight in which he looks like the more flagrant offender? It appears that his anti-media screeds do more damage to his own reputation than to his target's.
The answer could have something to do with the way public opinion breaks down along demographic lines. In short, Trump's attacks on the media overwhelmingly bother people who, generally speaking, are not likely to support him, anyway. At the same time, they are red meat for his base.
Republicans mostly think the media is unfair to Trump and that Trump is fair to the media; Democrats mostly think the opposite. No surprise there.
Here's where the results get a bit more interesting: White people, by a 16-point margin, say the media is unfair to Trump and by a 1-point margin say that Trump is fair to the media. That is basically the reverse of public opinion, overall.
White people were the key to Trump's victory in November — he won the national white vote by 20 points — and they are on the billionaire's side in his battle against the media.
The overall perception that Trump treats the media more unfairly than the media treats him is driven by racial minorities, who see the dynamic in such stark terms that they more than offset the view of the larger, white population.
Let's keep the big picture in mind, too. Overall public trust in the media is at an all-time low, according to Gallup. People might think that Trump is worse to the press than the press is to him, but the press is a pretty unsympathetic victim.
Thus, Trump probably risks little by offending people who didn't vote for him and who like the media only slightly more than they like him. Meanwhile, he can energize those who did back him by piling on an unpopular press corps.