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Less than half of Americans are confident journalists act in the best interests of the public; even fewer say journalists have high ethical standards: poll


Rank below lawyers

Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The American public relies on journalists to provide accurate information, but a new poll shows that most Americans are not confident that reporters act in the best interests of the public.

Even worse, even more of us believe journalists do not have high ethical standards. It's so bad, that Americans rank them behind lawyers (though they did beat out elected officials).

What's the data?

A new Pew Research poll found that only 48% of U.S. adults have a great deal (9%) or a fair amount (39%) of confidence that journalists act in the best interests of the public they serve. That's down 7 points from 2018, the last time the question was asked.

Pew also asked Americans for their thoughts on journalists' ethical standards, and the news wasn't great. Just 43% of adults say journalists have very high (6%) or high (37%) ethical standards — a 1-point drop from last year.

Chart showing Americans' confidence in journalists slightly lower than 2018, views of ethics about on par with last year

Not surprisingly, there's a definite partisan gap in the polling.

While 70% of Democrats have at least a fair amount of confidence that reporters act in the best interests of the public, only 23% of Republicans say the same.

Chart showing partisan divide in views toward journalists as stark today as in late 2018

On the ethical standards question, less than two-thirds of Democrats (64%) say journalists have high ethical standards and only 19% of Republicans feel that way.

Chart showing Republicans and Democrats are far more divided over the ethical standards of journalists than other groups of individuals

They ranked behind lawyers?

Pew asked Americans about the perceived ethical standards of other professions, and journalists did not fare well in comparison. Beating them out were medical doctors, police officers, religious leaders, and lawyers.

But journalists weren't the lowest-ranked on the ethical standards ranking.

Elected officials trailed them by 16 points at 27%.

Chart showing Americans rank journalists' ethical standards below doctors, police officers and clergy, but higher than elected officials

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