Media Bias and its Effects on Political Polarization

The U.S.’s political climate today is extremely hostile and unwelcoming. People today don’t want to share their beliefs with one another because they don’t want to risk provoking people towards hatred of them. Much of this tends to come from the mainstream media and the way individual outlets decide to report the facts. However, media outlets today tend to want to portray their own version of the facts rather than stick to the truth of the situation at hand. Political polarization is seen as an important issue that needs to be dealt with on both sides on the political isle. However, there seems to be a lack of consensus on how to accomplish that.

Political polarization has been around for quite some time throughout a great deal of civilizations. The United States formed two political factions shortly after its founding being the Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalist Party. While there was still contention between the parties of then and the parties of today, the primary difference is that the parties today hardly agree on any basic principles or foundations at all. Trying to get the two parties to vote in a bipartisan fashion today is nothing short of a miracle (DeSilver, 2014). By having so much contention, this raises every election to a higher set of stakes than it really has to be.

The study of how media bias plays a role in further widening this divide have been well documented for a while now. Studies revolving around the recent and sudden increase in political polarization have only just recently begun to have come out. Studies such as Barbara K. Kaye and Thomas J. Johnson’s “Across the Great Divide: How Partisanship and Perceptions of Media Bias Influence Changes in Time Spent with Media” dealt with how certain partisan biases towards particular presidential candidates led to people watching news from a succinct set of sources. Looking over how media outlets can affect the beliefs of Americans is important as social cohesion within any society is fundamental in holding that society’s social fabric together.

Media Bias in Today's World

In terms of the previous topic of whether media bias exists or not, it is an important question to answer as it forms the basis as to why political polarization is occurring in the U.S. Certain studies assume media bias exists as to account for changes in the way people think about other topics and political ideologies when viewing particular types of media (Weeks et al., 2019; Merkley, 2019; Schiffer, 2006). Weeks et al. accounts for how people react to certain media outlets when political figures that they follow deride them. Merkley assesses media bias in terms of favorable or unfavorable economic reports regarding presidents and their administrations. Schiffer discerns media bias based on whether newspapers speaks in favorable or hostile terms to individual senate candidates. Despite these articles assuming that media bias exists, the fact that they are covering different topics in order to reach a similar truth points to the existence of media bias and it actually having an effect on our daily lives.

Other studies point to media bias either not existing or point to its existence, but unable to prove it exists (Groeling, 2013; Eisinger et al., 2007). These studies point to media bias being highly subjective and how it’s hard to pinpoint what media bias actually is. However, other studies show that people who have a political position are more likely to watch media that is in line with their views (Kaye and Johnson, 2016). This reveals some bias but the point that media bias remains hard to quantify still stands.

Given the fact that there is media bias, the question now is which side does it point to? There are of course fringe outlets that cater to a few people here and there, but the type of media that would be the greatest indicator of bias would be the type that is seen by the most people. This would of course be the mainstream media. Since everyone who has a functioning device has access to these stations, this seems to be the most reliable method. It has already been stated that economic news is slanted to the left and to top it off, presidential administrations have little to no effect on how these issues are reported or looked upon by news networks (Merkley, 2019; Eshbaugh-Soha, 2017).

While this would seem to be a  one and done deal, this is not the case as there is still the issue of perceived media bias. This is the type of bias that occurs when people do not agree with what the news is saying on a personal level based off of their own beliefs and biases. Due to the fact that people tend to perceive that media bias is everywhere, they often assume that whatever news they see must be biased even if it is from an objective source (Barnidge et al., 2017).

 If everything is perceived as being biased amongst Americans, then what is the cause for there being so little trust in the media to begin with? It is because that there is low trust in the government that there is a low trust in the media. The government and the media are seen by the public as being very close relationship wise. This is why trust in one institution usually coincides with a similar level of trust in the other. According to a study, only 3.9% of Americans are “highly trusting” of the government (Kaye and Johnson, 2016). This relates to a similar level of trust in the media meaning that people who watch the media already have a filter prepared. This fuels how people see their own political beliefs and continues the cycle of people watching the news and refusing to believe what they see. This creates a landscape for people to takes sides and refuse to budge on their principles when they could instead compromise and come to the middle. This only ends up leading to more confusion and can only result in a population that no longer knows how to separate fact from fiction.

Media bias in all of its shapes and forms is a detrimental issue for the United State’s political landscape. Political polarization has been a growing issue for quite some time now with no signs of going away. Media bias has tarnished the way news is taken in to the point where no one believes what they hear anymore. While political polarization has been around for a while, it has never been as hostile as it is today. The reason it is so concerning is because people deserve to know the truth without hopping over the hurdles of opinionated reporting. Due to the concern that media bias is lending a hand in increasing political polarization, it should be researched to comprehend its effects on the American public.

Trust in the Government by Year and by Party

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