NEW YORK (AP) — In the opening days of the Trump administration, Democrats are far more interested than Republicans in seeing the news media assume the traditional role of watchdogs to people in power, a survey released on Wednesday found.
The Pew Research Center poll found that 89 percent of Democrats judged media criticism worth it because it keeps political leaders from doing things they shouldn't, while only 42 percent of Republicans felt that way. While supporters of a party out of power are generally more interested in seeing reporters dig for news than those in power, the gap hasn't been nearly this wide since Pew began looking at the question in 1985, said Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research.
Just last year, 77 percent of Republicans supported the media watchdog role, compared with 74 percent of Democrats, Pew found.
Meanwhile, 56 percent of Republicans said media criticism keeps political leaders from doing their job, compared with 9 percent of Democrats. That's another startling shift from a year earlier, where 20 percent of Republicans and 22 percent of Democrats felt that way, Pew said.
With Democrats out of power, "they see the media as the last line of defense," said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center.
At the same time, many conservatives now see reporters as being much tougher on Republicans than they are on Democrats, Graham said.
"They don't see them as journalists," he said. "They see them as prosecutors in a kangaroo court."
The president has also kept up a drumbeat of media criticism, judging stories he doesn't like to be fake news.
Pew's study found interest in national news higher than it was in 2016 — an unusual trend given that people traditionally fade away from the news following election years. This is almost entirely driven by engaged older Democrats, Pew found, a development also indicated in strong television ratings earned lately by MSNBC and its prime-time star Rachel Maddow.
The survey also found that 45 percent of Americans often get news through mobile devices, up from 36 percent a year ago. Democrats, again, lead the way in adapting to the new technology.
As is often the case, the survey didn't uncover a great deal of trust in the news media: 20 percent of respondents said they trusted national news organizations "a lot," with another 52 percent saying they had some trust. But after a campaign season where consumers began relying more on social media feeds essentially curated by their friends, that source was held in even lower esteem. Thirty-eight percent of people said they had at least some trust in social media.
"Even though we know Americans rely heavily on social media for their news, they continue to have very little trust in it as a genre as a whole," Mitchell said.
Pew's online survey was conducted between March 13-27 among 4,151 adults who are members of Pew's nationally representative American Trends Panel. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.