Why haven’t those arguments moved Americans in one direction or the other? Perhaps for one of the reasons that views of Trump himself have remained largely static: the gulf in how Americans view the national news media.
Trump has invested a great deal of energy in disparaging the press, both because it serves him well to foster a distrust of objective analysis of his presidency and because it creates a foil, a spur for his supporters to rally to his defense. On Thursday, as the House Judiciary Committee neared final votes on articles of impeachment targeting Trump, the Pew Research Center released data showing how views of the media differed by party — and by views about Trump.
The results show the extent to which Republicans and Democrats differ in their views of journalists and the national media. But Pew’s data go further, subdividing partisans by factors such as their view of Trump himself and the extent to which respondents track political news. Even within parties, those subdivisions reveal big differences.
Take the question of confidence in journalists acting ethically. Republicans were more likely to express low or very low confidence in journalists’ ethical standards, but strong supporters of Trump were much more likely to hold a skeptical view than were Republicans who disapprove of the president, 85 percent to 67 percent. The Democrats most critical of Trump were the group most likely to express confidence in the press.
Similarly, highly politically active Republicans and Democrats held the most differentiated views of the subject. Republicans who are highly politically aware are 70 points more likely than highly aware Democrats to estimate that journalists have low or very low ethical standards.
More modest gaps emerge in similar questions. Democrats who strongly disapprove of Trump are broadly likely to express confidence in national news organizations, with a third saying they have a lot of trust in those outlets. Republicans who strongly approve of Trump are much less likely to trust major news outlets.
The groups also have separate expectations of the role the media plays. Twice as many Democrats who strongly disapprove of Trump as Republicans who strongly support him say the media plays a role in holding leaders to account. The most highly politically aware Republicans are far less likely to think journalists act in the public’s interest than highly aware Democrats.
One important detail in Pew’s poll is that those respondents at the poles of support for Trump or political awareness were also more loyal to the same news sources. Trump’s strongest Republican supporters and the most politically aware members of his party are more loyal to the sources they trust — nearly to the same extent as Democrats who strongly disapprove of Trump or who are highly politically aware.
In other words, the respondents at the poles both had stronger opinions of the media and more loyalty to the media they trust. And those groups that have strong opinions on Trump also make up most of the population.
How does this overlap with impeachment? Well, polling has shown that there’s a correlation between the media that people consume and their views of impeachment. NBC-Wall Street Journal polling released last month found that only 29 percent of those who regularly watch Fox News supported impeaching and removing the president, compared with 70 percent of those who watch MSNBC.
We’ve talked before about how Fox News’s coverage of the impeachment inquiry differed from the coverage on CNN and MSNBC. We looked at data from the on-air chyrons to demonstrate the difference in the subjects being aired. We can similarly consider how often subjects are mentioned as an indicator.
Take Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, whose work for a Ukrainian energy company moved to the center of Republican defenses of Trump. Fox News was more than twice as likely to mention Hunter Biden on air over the past three months as were CNN or MSNBC.
As other witnesses testified over that period, Fox News was also less likely to mention individuals whose testimony incriminated the president.
That certainly has some effect on views of impeachment. But it probably also rewards the loyalty uncovered by Pew: Strong Trump supporters probably aren’t looking to hear a lot of negative information about the president.
It’s a reminder of another detail we reported earlier this year on a similar subject. The people who support Trump and say they’re least likely to change their mind about him?
Correction: A typographic error related to one measure of support was fixed from 95 to 85 percent.