The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans are scattered and divided over which source they most trust for news

The most viewed are not always the most trusted.

Far more Americans get their news from local and network TV than from cable TV, but when asked what political news source they trust most, more name cable channels CNN or Fox News than almost any other source.

A Washington Post Fact Checker poll used an open-ended format to ask what source of information viewers trust most for political news, which could include a person, company or organization. Cable news networks overall topped the list of responses, with 22 percent mentioning CNN (11 percent), Fox (9 percent) or MSNBC (2 percent), compared with a total of 5 percent who mentioned either ABC News, CBS News or NBC (together, 5 percent mention NBC or MSNBC).

Partisans split in trust for Fox News and CNN, with Fox volunteered as the most trusted by 22 percent of Republicans but just 1 percent of Democrats, while CNN is most trusted by 19 percent of Democrats but only 3 percent of Republicans. MSNBC is mentioned by 3 percent of Democrats as most trustworthy, while no Republican respondents mention the network.

The Post Fact Checker poll makes it clear that no news organization has a monopoly on trust in political news, with fewer than 1 in 8 trusting any one individual source and nearly 8 in 10 picking a source other than cable news. Among the other most trusted sources, the Post Fact Checker poll finds 6 percent of Americans overall mentioning NPR, within the survey’s 4.5-point error margin as most-trusted, along with Fox News. A similar 7 percent mention newspapers, including 4 percent mentioning the New York Times specifically. Just 2 percent say they most trust local TV.

Trump routinely says things that aren’t true. Few Americans believe him

The greater trust of cable news outlets for political information contrasts with Americans’ greater attention to local and network TV news. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans say they “often” get their news from television and more say they do from local TV (46 percent) than cable (31 percent) or network TV (30 percent). Pew’s analysis of ComScore data shows networks have a larger audience for their prime news programs, with 5.2 million TVs in the U.S. tuned to evening news on ABC, CBS or NBC on average in 2017, compared with 1.2 million TVs that were tuned into CNN, Fox News or MSNBC during prime time hours and less than 1 million during daytime hours. Even more were tuned to local TV news, more than 11 million TVs combining morning, early and late evening programming.

While the new Post Fact Checker poll finds cable news networks more often named as most-trusted over network outlets, other polls asking about trust in each source individually have found similar levels of trust across cable and national news networks. In 2014, Pew found 44 percent to 54 percent trusting Fox News, CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC for news about government and politics.

Separately, a 2018 Poynter Media Trust Survey found a larger share of Americans who trusted local television news rather than national networks. Over three-quarters, 76 percent of Americans had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in their local television news in general, more than the 55 percent who said the same about national news networks. That poll also found strong partisan differences in trust in Fox News and CNN: 21 percent of Democrats expressed at least a fair amount of trust in Fox, while a similar 19 percent said the same about CNN.

The Post Fact Checker poll finds Americans’ skepticism about the mainstream media in general is connected to which news organizations they trust most. Among adults who say the mainstream media regularly makes claims that are “flat-out false,” 22 percent volunteer Fox News as their most trusted source for information on politics, more than any other outlet named, while 4 percent mention CNN and an additional 14 percent say they don’t trust any source for news. But among those who say mainstream media does not regularly make misleading statements, less than 1 percent trust Fox most, while 19 percent say CNN is their most trusted source, 11 percent mention NPR and 10 percent are most trusting of a newspaper.

The president himself is a fan of Fox News, and those who “strongly approve” of President Trump are the most likely group to name the cable network as their most trusted source: 31 percent do so. For strong Trump approvers, no news source comes close to Fox as most trusted: Just 2 percent name a conservative website and another 9 percent say they don’t trust any news source.

Strong Trump disapprovers mention several major organizations as their most trusted source, with 16 percent naming CNN, 12 percent saying NPR and 12 percent opting for newspapers overall (with 8 percent naming the New York Times). Slightly fewer strong Trump disapprovers than strong approvers say they don’t trust any news source, at 4 percent.

Fulfilling some stereotypes, 16 percent of self-described liberals name NPR as their most-trusted source for political news and 10 percent name the New York Times, while 13 percent say CNN, each higher than trust among conservatives (4 percent or fewer mention any of these three sources). CNN fares best among moderates, with 15 percent naming it as their go-to trusted source for political news, while Fox News is the faraway favorite among conservatives, with 21 percent naming that network as most-trusted.

With all this news consumption, there’s still a significant skeptical portion of society, 7 percent who volunteered that they didn’t trust any news source. An additional 5 percent of Americans say they rely on a person close to them as their most-trusted political news source, be it a spouse, friend or other family member. And 1 percent say they only trust themselves or their own research.

This Washington Post Fact Checker poll was conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 10, 2018, among a sample of 1,025 adults interviewed through the AmeriSpeak Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Interviews were conducted online and by landline and cellular phones. The margin of error for overall results is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.