How access to data affects trust in news


Among the many tough questions members of the American press are asking themselves about low public trust, three in particular deserve special contemplation and deep introspection:

  • Whose trust can be regained?
  • Who is a lost cause?
  • How can trust be earned (generally, and with particular groups of Americans)?

A recent survey of 1,021 US adults who get news online could energize this discussion and point to an effective solution. The survey, from data.world via the SurveyMonkey Audience Panel, reveals that mistrust may not be as entrenched as it seems, and opening up access to data that informs reporting can have a profoundly positive impact on trust with Americans of all stripes. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.

When respondents were asked how much trust they have in the press “when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly”, half of those surveyed selected “not much” or “none at all”.

That’s worrisome, clearly, but not unworkable: nearly 8 in 10 surveyed would have more trust in an online news article if they could easily access the data behind the claims in the piece.

Even among those who are extremely wary of the media, data has a trust-building influence. Sixty-four percent of those who profess no trust at all in the press, and 79% of those with “not very much” trust, say that easy access to data would increase their trust in an article.

Political leanings and support for Trump

While self-identified “liberal” and “very liberal” respondents are the most likely to state that access to data would increase trust (87%), a strong majority of “conservatives” (73%), “very conservatives” (69%), and “moderates” (73%) feel the same.

Thirty-four percent of those who “strongly approve” of President Trump chose “none at all” when asked how much trust they have in the press, compared to just 4% of those who “strongly disapprove” of him.

And yet, 71% of strong Trump supporters and 67% of those who “somewhat approve” of Trump say that access to data would increase their trust.


Paid subscribers

While only 2 in 10 surveyed currently pay for access to any online news source, these paid subscribers are more likely to say that easy access to data increases their trust (83%) than non-subscribers (76%).

Data’s effect by publication

When shown a list of 11 news outlets and asked which they trust “when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly”, The New York Times emerged as the most trusted name in news, despite CNN’s famous slogan.

Those who trust The Washington Post were the most likely to think of data as a trust-builder (88%), whereas people who trust Fox News were the least likely to feel the same (69%).

Time to dig in

True to the findings of the survey, data.world has made the entire results dataset available to the public–every response to every question asked, including metadata such as income, sex, age, and region.

We encourage others to build on the analysis, ask questions, and collaborate with us to learn more about the fascinating relationship between access to data and trust in the press.

Explore the dataset here.

Image: purplejavatroll.