Gallup regularly polls a sample of Americans and asks them, “In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent?” If they say they’re independent, they’re asked if they lean more to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.
The survey for April 3-6 of this year showed that 29 percent identify as Democrats, 25 percent as Republicans and 42 percent as independent. If encouraged to choose between the two parties, 43 percent of Americans go with Democrats and 41 percent go with the GOP.
So we have a fairly evenly divided country with a huge swath of independents. And independents have grown more sizable and influential in recent years.
In that cultural context, let’s look at Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver’s “The American Journalist in the digital Age: Key Findings,” published by the Indiana University’s School of Journalism. This survey of journalists is done every decade and can map changes in job satisfaction, income, opposition to unethical practices, and other facets of life as a journalist. Let’s look at party affiliation:
So what we see is that the percentage of journalists who identify as Democrat is roughly the same as what you see in the general population. And the percentage who identify as independent is even greater than the general population. But whoa check out that GOP figure. Only 7 percent self-identify as Republican, nowhere near what you might expect from the general population.
Let’s first pause to just note the danger of having a corps of journalists so far removed and even hostile to the views of the general population. If a newsroom has a good chance of not even having someone of the Republican variety within its confines, it’s a newsroom that probably struggles to even come close to understanding the perspective of GOP voters. It’s a newsroom that might struggle to fairly cover or might completely ignore stories about tax burdens on families, systemic failures of the welfare state, the benefits of gun ownership, or the evils of a serial-murdering abortion doctor in Philadelphia (just speaking hypothetically here).
So even if this were the entire story — that Republicans are woefully under-represented in newsrooms — that would be worth some self-reflection among media hiring managers and university journalism programs.
But of course the real story is so much worse. I have met a few reporters or editors who identify as Democrats, but only a few. I have never met a Republican reporter. (A colleague tells me one of his large newsrooms had three Republicans — two copy editors and a sports reporter. None who covered politics or government.) I have worked with hundreds of journalists who identify as independent. Only a few of them were actually independent. And certainly many of them were able to cover stories fairly no matter how extreme their personal views. But still.
As mentioned above, if you ask “independent” Americans to pick a political team, they split between Republicans and Democrats. In our chart above, we have people who like to think of themselves as independent, certainly. And that trend has jumped even in the last decade — jumped nearly 20 percentage points or some 54 percent, in fact.
But here’s the thing. If you were to ask a sampling of the most liberally biased mainstream reporters and editors, I bet none would cop to being Democrat and all would say they’re independent.
Asking about party identification tells us nothing, other than that reporters have gotten good at claiming to be independent. But if their actual news product on the hot-button issues of the day, be they moral, cultural, political or economic, is any guide, they’re no more independent than Hillary Clinton is.
Yes, everyone knows that the media are biased to the point of hostility toward the views of many Americans. It’s always been a problem, it’s obviously getting worse, and defensive protestations by journalists that everything’s cool ring more hollow than ever.
It’s not breaking news that this is the situation. But the news is definitely broken.