The Fox News Defamation Trial Hurt Trust Among Some Viewers

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Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

While Fox News viewers themselves may have missed the news, earlier this week the cable-news giant settled a defamation lawsuit filed against it to the tune of $787.5 million. Dominion Voting Systems — a voting-equipment company that supplies voting machines across the country — had sued Fox for spreading false information about the company by frequently airing segments and hosting guests that claimed Dominion machines were hacked or programmed to rig the 2020 election against former President Donald Trump. 

This settlement didn’t ultimately resolve the question at the heart of the case: Was Fox News at fault if it knowingly spread false information about Dominion? The American people, however, have reached their own conclusions. Over the past few months, polling has shown a majority of Americans think Fox was in the wrong — though, perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans are less convinced. 

In a March Quinnipiac University poll, 65 percent of Americans said Fox News should be held accountable for spreading false information. This included 93 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans. That’s particularly noteworthy because Fox’s viewership is largely Republican: A Morning Consult poll conducted at the beginning of 2023 found that 50 percent of registered Republicans said they watched Fox News at least a few times a week, while 80 and 82 percent said they never watched CNN or MSNBC, respectively. 

The details revealed as the case ramped up didn’t seem to make much difference on opinion either. The case drew a lot of attention, particularly when Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch said in a deposition that hosts on the network “endorsed” false claims of a stolen election, and when released text messages between high-profile Fox hosts and producers revealed that many at Fox did not in fact believe some of the theories shared on the air.

Among Fox News viewers specifically, 50 percent said these revelations had no effect on their belief that the 2020 election was stolen, according to a poll of American adults from Maru/Blue for Variety in March. However, 13 percent said they no longer believed the election was stolen, and 21 percent of Fox News viewers who were aware of the lawsuit said they trusted the network less following the revelations from the texts and Murdoch’s deposition.

Overall, though, Americans’ trust in news media has been declining in recent years. According to a survey last summer from the Knight Foundation, a majority of adults — 53 percent — said they had a very or somewhat unfavorable view of U.S. news media, up from 43 percent in 2017. Just 35 percent said that, in general, most national news organizations can be relied on to deliver the news they need, and 50 percent disagreed with the statement that most national news organizations do not intend to mislead, misinform or persuade the public. This may partly explain why 90 percent of registered voters said they were very or somewhat worried about misinformation, according to a February Navigator poll, and 78 percent said they encountered misinformation very or somewhat often. Self-identified Republicans who reported watching Fox News at least a few times a month were the most likely to say so, with 39 percent saying they encountered misinformation very often, compared with 30 percent of Americans overall. And 23 percent of respondents who identified Fox News as one of their main sources of news about politics and current events said they encountered misinformation most commonly on Fox itself — higher than the percentage of MSNBC viewers and CNN viewers who said their main source of news was also where they most often encountered misinformation.

This all combines into a catch-22: The news media attempts to counter misinformation, but viewers don’t trust the news media, so they think the media is spreading misinformation, which further erodes trust. It’s a vicious cycle with no end in sight.

Other polling bites 

  • After Trump was indicted at the end of March, the former president enjoyed a brief bump in support that has since dissipated, according to polling from Yahoo News/YouGov. Two weeks ago, 57 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said, in a contest between Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, they would vote for Trump — a 26-percentage-point advantage. But in the most recent poll, from April 14-17, the gap had narrowed, with 52 percent saying they preferred Trump and 36 percent opting for DeSantis. There’s a chance that post-indictment bump was simply capturing Trump supporters who were more motivated to share their enthusiasm for their preferred candidate. 
  • Last month, Pew Research Center surveyed Americans on their views of different world leaders and found Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy garnered more confidence from U.S. adults than any of the other six leaders surveyed: Fifty-six percent of Americans said they had some or a lot of confidence in Zelenskyy to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.” However, there was a notable partisan divide — just 44 percent of Republicans had confidence in the Ukrainian leader, compared with 71 percent of Democrats. Overall, there were partisan divides apparent among respondents who expressed confidence in French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but not Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both Republicans and Democrats had low levels of confidence in Xi (7 percent and 10 percent, respectively), Putin (9 percent and 5 percent) and Modi (21 percent and 22 percent).  
  • Here’s a surprise to nobody born between 1981 and 1996: Millennials are more likely than other generations to have mountains of debt across various categories, according to a Morning Consult poll released this week. Fifty-two percent of millennials reported having credit card debt, compared with 48 percent of Gen X, 42 percent of baby boomers and 27 percent of Gen Z adults. Similarly, 43 percent of millennials have car loans, compared with 30 percent of Gen X, 23 percent of boomers and 23 percent of Gen Z adults. In fact, across every single debt category — including student loans, mortgages and medical debt — a higher percentage of millennials held debt than any other generation. 
  • If faced with the choice of saving a boat with one dog on it or a boat with one human on it, which would you choose? What if it was 10 dogs? One-hundred dogs? In an April poll from YouGov, 23 percent of American adults said they would save the boat with 100 dogs over the boat with one human on it. When asked the same question about pigs, however, respondents were less animal-friendly: Just 10 percent said they’d rescue the 100 pigs over the single human. And, for the record, 14 percent of adults said they’d save a boat with one dog over a boat with one human. (Notably, the poll did not ask dogs for their opinion.)

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.4 percent of Americans approve of the job President Biden is doing, while 52.7 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.3 points). At this time last week, 43.0 percent approved and 52.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -9.2 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.6 percent, for a net approval rating of -7.9 points.

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