A recent survey of Americans by the Pew Research Centre asked whether voters thought that the press had been fair to the presidential candidates. With growing political polarization in the United States, this is a rather interesting and timely topic.
As background, the total sample included 1005 individuals, 249 who identified themselves as Republicans, 336 who identified themselves as Democrats and 355 who identified themselves as Independents. A combination of landline and cell randomly dialled samples were used and the total survey is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Nearly half of those surveyed (46 percent) stated that they felt that the coverage of Mitt Romney has been fair. As well, the same percentage stated that they felt that the coverage of President Obama has been fair. The difference lies among those who feel that the press is biased; 20 percent feel that the press has been too easy on Romney and 21 percent feel that the press has been too tough on him. In contrast, nearly 28 percent of those surveyed felt that the press coverage of President Obama has been too easy compared to only 15 percent who felt that coverage had been too tough.
If we look back at the 2008 election, 23 percent of all voters surveyed thought that the press was too tough on John McCain compared to only 15 percent who thought that the press was being too easy. In 2008, only 7 percent of all voters surveyed thought that the press was too tough on candidate Obama and 31 percent thought that the press was too easy.
Here is a chart showing a summary of the data for both election cycles:
Those who identified themselves as Republican tended to be more critical of press coverage than their Democratic counterparts; 45 percent of Republicans think that the press has been too tough on Mitt Romney (think about the recent video release!). This is about the same level as during the 2008 election when 44 percent of Republicans thought that the press was biased against John McCain. In sharp contrast, only 26 percent of Democrats think that the press has been too hard on Obama; that said, this is up markedly from the 2008 election when only 9 percent of Democrats thought that the press was biased against candidate Obama.
Even more interesting is the number of Republicans that feel that Obama is getting a "pass" by the press. A hefty 60 percent of Republicans feel that coverage of Obama is "too easy", again, sharply contrasting the 29 percent of Democrats that feel that the press has been biased in favour of Mitt Romney.
The results of this polling give us an intriguing look at how American voters view media bias, particularly as it pertains to the candidate of their choosing. It should not be terribly surprising that at least some of America's most influential media outlets are up front about their political leanings, an issue that is particularly noticeable now that "journalists" have 24 hour news cycles to fill.