New UMass Amherst Poll Looks at Impact of Trump and Media on National Discourse

umass logo

AMHERST, Mass. – A new poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that a notable percentage of state voters believe both President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and mass media practices played a role in the recent spate of violent incidents across the nation, although a greater number placed responsibility on the president.

The UMass Poll also asked voters which media outlets they trust for their political information. The poll was conducted online by YouGov Nov. 7-14.

The respondents were split into two groups and each asked a different question about the effect of President Trump’s rhetoric and the mass media’s role in connection with a recent spate of violent incidents across the country. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they agreed Trump’s rhetoric played a role, while 30 percent disagreed. Women were 12 percentage points more likely than men to strongly agree that Trump’s words incite violence. When asked whether the media played a role in the recent violent incidents 49 percent agreed, while 24 percent disagreed. Twenty-six percent indicated they neither agreed nor disagreed.

Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science and director of the UMass Poll, said that Republican voters tend to believe Trump and view the mass media negatively. “They view the mass media in a negative light and believe that the media, more than the president, is responsible for the recent spate of violence in the country,” he said. He noted that independent voters tend to think both Trump and the media are to blame.

“Voters seem to believe that the president, through his rhetoric, is doing the exact opposite of his constitutional mandate to protect them. In fact, they see him as fomenting disorder and violence,” said Raymond La Raja, professor of political science and associate director of the UMass Poll. “Views about Trump’s rhetoric are heavily colored by whether voters supported him for president. Among the state’s Clinton voters, 91 percent believe his words incite violence, while only 10 percent of Trump voters believe this.”

On the issue of trust in media, voters were asked if they trust political information from a range of statewide and national media outlets. WGBH in Boston was the most trusted news source, with 53 percent indicating trust, 21 percent indicating distrust and 27 percent expressing no opinion. The Boston Globe followed at 46 percent of the voters polled indicating trust, 27 percent expressing distrust and 28 percent having no opinion. Fox News was the least trusted, with 26 percent indicating some trust, 54 percent indicating no or little trust and 20 percent saying they had no opinion. Of the national TV news outlets, CNN was the most trusted by 41 percent, with 34 percent saying they had little to no trust in the cable network and 24 percent saying they had no opinion.

Partisanship colored respondents’ perceptions of the media. Only 11 percent of Democrats say they trusted Fox News compared to 64 percent of Republicans. In contrast, only 7 percent of Republicans say they trust CNN, while 67 percent of Democrats say they do. Among local sources of news, Democrats have significantly more trust than Republicans in the Boston Globe, WGBH and WBZ.

“All of the big network news companies suffer from lack of trust compared to local news,” La Raja said. “Not surprisingly in a liberal state, Fox News is the most distrusted media organization among Massachusetts voters by wide margins. Fifty-four percent say they don’t trust Fox News compared to 35 percent for MSNBC and 34 percent for CNN.”

Nteta noted that while some question the future of public broadcasting, WGBH is the only media source in Massachusetts in which a majority of voters trust the political information it provides.

“Republicans in the state are skeptical of all media sources except for one: Fox News,” Nteta said. “Given the president’s depiction of the mass media as the ‘enemy of the people’ and his particular disdain for CNN, it is no surprise in this highly partisan environment that majorities of Republicans and conservatives do not trust the news coming from CNN.”

“There is little doubt that the media is seen as both partisan and malignant,” La Raja added. “Republicans, for example, tend to view the media – rather than Trump – as inciting violent attacks. Just 3 percent of them blame Trump for playing a role in violent incidents, while 68 percent blame the media. The responses are quite different for Democrats and independents.”

The UMass Poll has a margin of error of 4.1 percent among registered voters. It included 796 respondents, of which 750 registered Massachusetts voters were assembled into the final dataset. Founded in 2010, UMass Poll has provided political polling for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and national races.

Further results will be released this week that look at other top issues facing the nation and who Massachusetts voters are supporting early for presidential candidates in 2020.

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll are available for download HERE