A Crisis of Trust in America

By Bennet Harvey

Americans’ overall trust in mass news media has been on a steep decline since the late 1970s, according to Gallup Group polling.  In 2022 the percentage of Citizens stating No Confidence in all exceeds both those with a Great Deal / Fair Amount, or Not Very Much trust and confidence in mass media news reporting.

When broken down by Citizens’ political affiliation, the picture is quite different.  Democrats have always had the most trust followed by Independents and then Republicans.  All Citizen trust descended in near parallel paths until 2016.  However, at that point the parties’ paths diverged dramatically.  In 2015 the gap was about 25%.  By 2018 the gap reached nearly 60%, and by 2020 it was 65%.

From 1996 to 2003 biannual election year data consistently shows Democrats’ movement of trust moving in the opposite direction from Republicans and Independents.  Beginning in 2003 all three political groups move together in the same direction, up or down, much more frequently than before 2003.  

The data below clearly shows the distribution of trust in news media acros the political spectrum.

The Gallup Trust Data by party totaled from 2020 to 2022 are broken out below by Age, Political Ideology, and Education.  

  • By Age the data shows that trust increases by age for Democrats and Independents, but for Republicans the middle age range is lowest by more than half.
  • By Political Ideology Democrats have consistently high trust in news media.  Independents trust declines from liberal to moderate to conservative.  Moderate Republicans trust in news media is twice the level of conservative Republicans.
  • College Education does not distinguish between Democrats or between Republicans.  College Educated Independents have nearly 50% more trust than Independents without college education. 

Declining trust in news media is accompanied by news fatigue across the political spectrum.  Lower rating of news quality aligns with greater news fatigue.

Republicans more than Democrats feel they are misunderstood by news media.  Among Democrats, lower interest in the news corresponds with a greater feeling of being misunderstood by news media.

The Gallup data below from July 2017 shows the consistent decline in trust across public institutions.  Only the Military and Small Business saw gains in trust in recent decades.  All others saw dramatic declines.  News media is near the bottom spot held by Congress. 

  • Trust in Newspapers declines by 27 points from 51% to 24%.
  • Trust in Television News declined 25 points from 46% to 21%. 


Context Videos


How do Americans view economic inequality?

From Pew Research Center


Do Americans trust their elections?

From Pew Research Center


Do Americans trust the news media?

From Pew Research Center


Do Americans trust the police?

From Pew Research Center


In the age of COVID-19, do Americans trust science?

From Pew Research Center

ReNews Will Demonstrate a New News Media Ecosystem

By Bennet Harvey

Outside the login, this site discusses the erosion of the critical role of news media in American Democracy.  This page documents the problem with a wide range of articles and studies by many of the leading news media foundations, think tanks and research organizations.

If you recognize that this is a critical problem for our democracy, and you are prepared to share responsibility for creating a new, sustainable and Citizen-centric news media, then please Request a Login and let us know how you’d like to help.

Inside the login, we offer qualified Citizens and organizations a confidential preview of ReNews’ dramatically new Citizen experience and economic model for news in American democracy.  [Read More]

Under the old news media model, news publishers and political advertisers have bought and sold Citizens, their data, and their civic responsibilities to the highest bidder.  

ReNews has rearchitected this ecosystem to give each Citizen control over the information they consume, and over all uses of their personal private information.

If you find that ReNews is a worthwhile path forward please join us:

  • Download our iOS and Android Apps or use the website (Available early 2023). 
  • Use ReNews to maintain full visibility into all US news, issue areas, and policy proposals specifically relevant to you.
  • Monitor influence campaigns embedded in news and political ads which constantly try to convince you to vote against your best interests.
  • Use ReNews’ context engine to confidently build your own data-driven positions on policies across the political landscape. 
  • Manage your civic responsibilities and action opportunities, whatever your political background.
  • Make a tax-deductible donation to support ReNews Context Services, a 501c3 non-profit and non-partisan Context Journalism newsroom. 
  • Register your portfolio as a working journalist and engage with Citizens and reporting opportunities through your Journalist Profile Page. Privacy Policy (outside log-in)


  • is currently an ‘under construction’ site designed to introduce Citizens, donors and partners to our plans to introduce a new experience of news media and civic engagement.
    • Outside the log-in this site reports on the issues with news media’s business model and Citizen experience which have led to dysfunction in news media’s role in American democracy.
    • Inside the log-in this site shares confidential details of our intellectual property and the ReNews initiative to restore trust in news media’s role in democratic governance.
  • Citizens who use the Request a Login form will be reviewed prior to being given login credentials and may be given a login to access the confidential information inside this site.
  • Some visitors requesting a login may receive one-time-use or short-term log-ins, depending on their role and area of interest.  When their log-in expires those visitors may continue engagement with ReNews team members directly, or may request that their login be renewed.
  • is not a product or marketing site and therefore we will never sell or share any data about our visitors with other sites.
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Nieman Lab’s Predictions for Journalism 2023

Each year, Neiman Labs asks journalists and media executives what they think is coming in the next 12 months.  December 2022 produced a bumper crop of opinions, insights, wishful thinking, and warnings for 2023.  The full collection can be found on Neiman Labs site.

Below we highlight a list of several Neiman predictions which caught our attention when they envisioned one or another component of the soon-to-be-launched ReNews platform.  We believe ReNews will be the first time a comprehensive integrated solution has been proposed across this landscape.

    1.  The rot at the core of the news business – Christoph Mergerson – “Repairing the rot requires us to imagine a media system that isn’t centered nearly as much around profit motives — and then insist that our elected officials help to bring it about.”
    2. We’ll embrace policy remedies Jody Brannon“It’s time journalists, advertisers, technologists, regulators, lawmakers, and others convene to craft equitable standards of distribution and monetization of news content.” 
    3. The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce – Victor Pickard – “It is capitalism that incentivizes the degradation of our news media — disinvesting in local journalism, weaponizing social media to capture our attention and data, and devaluing media workers’ labor conditions.”
    4. Philanthropy stops investing in corporate mediaSimon Galperin – “It’s time for journalism philanthropy to ditch corporate media sellouts and double-down on supporting and expanding the non-commercial journalism sector.”
    5. More journalism funders will take more risksBarbara Raab – “Given that philanthropy is uniquely unaccountable for its performance, funders have great freedom to take risks and to experiment. Now is the time.”
    6. Democracies will get serious about saving journalismJulia Angwin – “If democracy is going to survive, we’re going to need to fund its watchdogs.”
    7. We’ll work together with our competitorsLarry Ryckman – “There’s a growing awareness that our readers are better served when we pool resources and tackle topics of public interest.”
    8. Local news will come to rely on AIBill Grueskin – “If we automate some commodity news, we can provide a lot more information to people who need it.”
    9. Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverageJim Friedlich – “There is an urgent need to focus election coverage on the issues and the civic process — not the candidate horse race.”






Opinion: Journalists band together to fight Pegasus intimidation

Earlier this month, a group of journalists at the independent Central American news outlet El Faro joined forces with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University to file a lawsuit in U.S. federal court.

The subject of the suit: the Israeli company NSO Group, whose Pegasus spyware is sold to governments around the world and, the complaint alleges, was used in violation of U.S. law to penetrate the journalists’ iPhones and monitor their activities.

“These spyware attacks were an attempt to silence our sources and deter us from doing journalism,” Carlos Dada, co-founder and director of El Faro, said in the announcement of the lawsuit. “We are filing this lawsuit to defend our right to investigate and report, and to protect journalists around the world in their pursuit of the truth.”

Journalists like those at El Faro, who are doing investigative work that holds power to account and exposes corruption, are no strangers to threats, intimidation, incarceration and even violence. These are realities that we’ve chronicled extensively at Frontline: people and governments target accountability journalists in order to kill their stories and keep sources from speaking out. In recent years, though, the threat environment for journalists has intensified to include new and sophisticated challenges, like the powerful hacking tool, Pegasus.

In fact, after the journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories received a leak of thousands of phone numbers it suspected had been selected for potential Pegasus targeting, and convened a consortium of 17 news outlets including Frontline to investigate with the technical support of Amnesty International Security Lab, our collaborative Pegasus Project reporting found that among the numbers on the list were those of journalists whose work exposed government corruption.

Forbidden Stories is dedicated to continuing the work of jailed, threatened or assassinated journalists. (Their official motto: “Killing the journalist won’t kill the story.”) To Forbidden Stories’ founder Laurent Richard, the invasive ways in which Pegasus could be used to put journalists and their sources at risk, coupled with the largely unregulated nature of the spyware industry, signaled a new era of threats to journalism.

“Pegasus is like a person over your shoulder — a person who will see what you are seeing, a person who would watch what you are watching, your emails, your encrypted communication, everything. So once you are infected, you’re trapped,” he says in our upcoming January documentary series on the Pegasus spyware scandal.

NSO Group, which has disputed some of the Pegasus Project’s reporting, has publicly insisted that it “has no insight” into how the governments it sells to use Pegasus spyware but says it investigates credible claims of misuse. The company says it sells Pegasus to governments for “the sole purpose of preventing and investigating terror and serious crime.” Yet our collaborative Pegasus Project investigation found that NSO sold Pegasus to governments who used the spyware to track dissidents, journalists and activists.

I believe that, unfortunately, in the year to come, threats to journalists — and to journalism itself — will continue to grow and evolve in troubling, technologically advanced, and at times undetectable ways.

But I also believe that journalists will keep doing their jobs, and that they will band together in new ways to meet the moment and fight back against intimidation — as El Faro and the Knight Institute are doing in this lawsuit; as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa is doing through coalition-building in the Philippines; and as Forbidden Stories and other news organizations are doing through the Pegasus Project.

Part of the fight back is to report unflinchingly on what happens when journalists come under attack — to seek and tell the unvarnished truth, in forensic detail. At Frontline, in the year ahead, that’s exactly what we’ll do. We’ve been filming with Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist in Russia who is in Moscow fighting authorities’ court cases against the independent newspaper he co-founded, Novaya Gazeta. We’re continuing to probe the assault on press freedom in the Philippines.

And next month, in our globe-spanning two-part docuseries with Forbidden Stories and Forbidden Films, we’ll chronicle how journalists uncovered the Pegasus spyware scandal, how they learned that other journalists had potentially been targeted, and how — in another example of journalism evolving to meet the moment — they fought tech with tech: joining forces with Amnesty International’s Security Lab, who performed forensic analysis on a number of phones to try to determine whether they had been targeted with and infected with Pegasus.

The threats journalism faces are profound and evolving. It’s a good thing that so, too, is our capacity to respond.

Raney Aronson-Rath is editor-in-chief and executive producer of Frontline.


Opinion: DEI efforts must consider reporters’ mental health and online abuse

The 2020 brutal murder of George Floyd by white police officers was an impetus for many newsrooms across the country to re-energize diversity efforts. These reckonings around racial justice and equity promised internal mentorship programs, diverse event programming, more open conversations about systemic racism, additional funding for the recruitment and retention of diverse news workers, and new positions focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the newsroom.

But in the rearview mirror, 2022 is a picture of slow progress. Many of the DEI promises have not been fully realized. Feedback from journalists is familiar and enduring — some change, not enough. And results fromNorthwestern’s 2021 survey show journalists of color are more likely to have concerns about the DEI efforts in their newsrooms.

In particular, journalists hired into roles that emphasize some kind of diversity and equity struggle to find consistent support.

As reported in an ongoing research project, a diversity and community editor who had been in the job for about a year said, “I’m tired, I’m always tired. This work is the work of change, work of equity change at a legacy organization is daunting, right? There’s no question about it. You know it’s going to take forever. Sometimes it feels like it’s never going to happen.”

Women journalists of color, plagued by slow DEI progress within organizations, also find themselves targets of abuse and harassment online. In a survey of women journalists in the U.S. conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalism in 2019, 90% of respondents cited online abuse as their most significant threat. Just a year later, in an international survey fielded by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalism, 73% of women journalists reported experiencing online violence because of their work. This threat is aggravated for women with multiple identities, with Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Arab, Asian, and LGBTQIA women, in particular, facing the most severe and highest rates of online violence, as well as reporters who write about race.

The consequences are profound for the profession, which is already struggling to recruit and retain diverse talent. A survey conducted by TrollBusters International Women’s Media Foundation found that 40% of women journalists reported changing their behavior as a result of online violence, and nearly a third of respondents considered quitting the profession entirely.

The threat of online violence and the cost of deferred DEI efforts have one thing in common: News workers of color bear the burden, and these costs take a mental and physical toll. Without efforts to promote the well-being and safety of journalists of color, DEI initiatives — particularly those focused on recruitment — can create more harm.

In 2022, and likely in 2023 and beyond, it is clear that, for journalists of color, the field of journalism is hazardous.

A reporter working in DEI said it best: “Racism doesn’t just kill us with a rope around our necks. It kills us little by little. The health disparities, and the trauma, and the mental fatigue, the emotional fatigue. So those are the risks for all of us. All of us in this world who are trying to tell some of these stories. We can’t separate ourselves from them.”

Despite the grim picture, 2023’s DEI goals can support the mental health of BIPOC newsworkers, including tangible measures to address online abuse. Resilience in the face of slow progress must be supported.

Danielle K. Brown is the Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity, and Equality at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Kathleen Searles is an associate professor of political communications at Louisiana State University.


Subscriptions Drive Inequitable Access to Trustworthy News

Thomas Jefferson believed that the transparency provided by journalism was virtually a fourth branch of government, serving as a check and balance on the constitutionally-defined three.  But he also recognized that the news must be available to all, and that all Citizens must be able to understand the news that is published (implying a minimum level of education). 

Subscriptions violate both these important considerations.  The poor cannot afford to pay for economically regressive subscriptions, and therefore do not have access to the same quality news as the wealthy.  This deficit is perpetuated when their children do not grow up with quality news from which to learn about their rights and best interests under American democracy.  For these reasons subscriptions for news may be the most economically-divisive commercial concept under the American economy and political system.

Subscriptions farther out of Reach

Since the turn of the century the newspaper industry, and to a lesser extent electronic news broadcasting, have lost both the majority of their audiences, and their advertising revenue.

Total estimated weekday circulation of U.S. daily newspapers was 55.8 million in 2000 and dropped to 24.2 million by 2020, according to Editor & Publisher and the Pew Research Center.

As newspaper consumption declined this century, the news product became uncompetitive, with the exploding search and social media digital products gobbling up news media’s lunch, while also creating a new medium which has co-opted and corrupted the very concept of trustworthy journalism.



The advertising revenue for newspapers peaked in 2005 just before the iPhone and social media emerged, an event to which news media was unable to effectively respond to maintain a sustainable news ecosystem.  The following graph shows how the industry lost the vast majority of ad revenue in the last 15 years. 

While the industry lost over 60% of its ad revenue, circulation revenue continue to grow at a much slower pace, not nearly replacing the ad revenue decline.

It doesn’t take complex math to see that when circulation dropped by more than half and circulation revenue increased only slightly the amount each Citizen pays for newspapers has more than doubled in the last 15 years. 

Quality news is not becoming more accessible through affordability, it is becoming less so. 

This fact, combined with the erosion in the number of newspapers, journalists, and communities with any news coverage has meant that access to quality news is limited well beyond the rising cost of subscriptions.

In Jefferson’s time early newspapers were growing in number, circulation and diversity of opinion.  He and the other founding fathers cannot be faulted for not better planning for the sustainability and universal access of news media in their drafting of the US Constitution.  However, it is clear they would have done so under today’s dire circumstances for news media and American democracy.


News Media Failing Its Role in American Democracy

By Bennet Harvey

While all industries are important to Citizen lives, the one most directly impacting the equitable function of democracy is News Media. This industry emerged in the 15th century as newsletters and town criers paid for the news product, which has always been bundled with advertisements.

European countries developed the concept of the Fourth Estate referring to the press as a fourth power balancing nobility, clergy, and commoners. The term Fourth Estate evolved in the US to be interpreted as

a balance to the three branches of government in the American republic: Legislative, Executive and Judicial. Not a fourth branch of government, because that would violate the independence of the press.

Until very recently, ad and subscription revenue streams have defined the news media as an industry. And it was a very profitable one for the great news barons of the last couple of centuries. Family names like Hearst, McCormick, Sulzberger, McClatchey, Chandler, Knight, Ridder built great wealth in the news, and supporting lumber, newsprint, and transportation

industries, ultimately delivering trees to driveways.

In hindsight, we have learned that news is not the most effective means of delivering ads to Citizens. Search engines and social media took that title shortly after the turn of the century. We also know that fewer citizens are buying newspapers, and focus more on the explosion of lifestyle and entertainment content on the internet.  As a result, the quality of the product, numbers of journalists, and hard news content have been cut by more than half due to the lost ad revenue. This, in turn has continued to increase the subscription cost of news media to  Citizens, and so fewer low-income Citizens get quality news.

News Media’s critical role in the function of an equitable democracy was best described by Thomas Jefferson around the time of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Jefferson said:

“The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”

– Thomas Jefferson, 1787

News Media has never met Jefferson’s ideals, in part because quality news has never been available to all members of our society. This has been due both to education and economic access.  Low income Citizens can’t afford to pay for news, and low education and non-English speaking Citizens aren’t able to use the news to effectively participate in the democratic process.  

Some would argue the news also has not meet Jefferson’s ideals because its coverage sometimes appears to be biased by factors outside the control of its Citizen-readers.  These have included suspected motivations to:

    1. make the product exciting, in order to induce single copy sales.
    2. appeal to and not upset business advertisers, with their influence being in direct proportion to their size.
    3. maintain good relations with government agencies, police, fire departments in order to retain access 
    4. spin the news toward their vested interests by publishers, editors, and journalists and advertisers.
All of these are commercial considerations which only relate to the news media’s operation as an industry under its historical ad and subscription conventions.  None of them relate to the core function of news media as a utility of American democracy.  In fact, today it seems the industry influences on this utility almost completely neutralize the news media utility’s value.

Is This How It Must Be?

Imagining something different is always difficult for anyone inside a long-standing system.  As consumers of news, it’s hard to imagine any other way journalism could be delivered to us.  That is, without the risk of it being under the control of government or some other nefarious entity. 

In 2022 a Wilmington, DE civic organization asked Citizens what they wish news media would do if it could be redesigned from scratch.  One respondent cut to the heart of news media’s role in democracy.

“I think [news] could do a better job explaining what major bills will do and the impact it’ll have. Take away the Democrat-Republican stuff, take away the spending aspect, but just getting to the root of bills and explaining it on a basic level to people of what a certain bill will do.”
— Wilmington, DE Citizen

Delaware’s Local News & Information Ecosystem Assessment Key Findings and Opportunities – June 7, 2022 

When one thinks about “the spending aspect” as subscriptions and ads, this quote is a distillation of the essential function of news media’s role in democracy as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson.

This is because society considers news media to be an industry.  Today our public policy places the same incentives on critical functions as it does on general commerce.  This has led to today’s architecture of news media: 

    1. Advertising, subscription prices, 
    2. fragmented experience due to ads, and
    3. episodic news cycle designed to create inventory for ads.  

Ultimately, this has led to commercial barons controlling our critical societal functions and manipulating the very process of legislation and regulation meant to hold them accountable.

And now, our treatment of the news media as an industry under full capitalist motivations, has led to the nearly complete destruction of news media’s ability to achieve either of Jefferson’s precepts for news media’s role in democracy.

Should Society Face the Same Fate as an Industry or Technology at the End of its Lifecycle?

There is a frightening parallel between the Newspaper industry and the CD-ROM medium of transmitting Music in terms of the fate of industries as they reach the end of their lifecycles.  

Note the parallel path of revenues for news media and CDs, growing fast and then peaking as the similarly flawed alternative of streaming appeared.  

Was the ad / subscriptions commercial delivery system for news just a temporary medium like CD-ROM for music?  If so, what followed for news appears to have been the broken medium of social media, much like streaming for music.

Is there a next alternative after streaming?  Undoubtedly, as “progress” continues.  Will it be another temporary flawed solution?  Probably, unless we can consciously address unintended consequences before unleashing a new temprary solution on society which will devour huge amounts of societal energy, only to dissolve into another successor.

Or are we now prepared to take responsibility for outcomes and start planning beyond the end of our noses?

Failure to Innovate has Led to Consolidation of Control and Reduction of Access

The failure of the newspaper industry to innovate an economically competitive citizen experience and business model has contributed to the industry’s consolidation into the hands of an ever-smaller number of private equity investors and public companies. 

This, in turn has led to a dramatic collapse in the number of daily and weekly newspapers in the country, and the loss of half of our newspaper reporters.

This report on the 2022 State of Local News from Penelope Muse Abernathy teacher at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and former Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina reveals this trend is tightly linked to the emergence of ‘news deserts’, local markets across the US in which Citizens receive little or no local news coverage.  Citizens in these communities must fulfill their local civic responsibilities supported only with regional news coverage from cities hundreds of miles away.  With no coverage of local City Council, Panning Commission or School Board meetings, not to mention crime and community news, these Citizens must still vote and pay taxes.

The gist is that the state of news media has now reached a crisis point for American democracy.  

Owners of the remaining newspaper chains fall into two camps:

  1. Investors and families with good societal intent who continue to invest in or at least maintain the integrity of their editorial product at some cost to their investment returns.
  2. Private equity firms who harvest the asset value of news businesses to provide dividends for their investors, ignoring societal consequences as erroneous considerations in pursuit of a single-minded goal to provide short term gains to their small pool of investors.  Nearly every year another major US newspaper chain is absorbed by private equity buyers.

Note in the graph below, that Private Equity ownership of dailies among the top-25 companies increased from 22.5% of total in 2004 to 50.2% in 2014.  The trend has only accelerated since 2014 according to details in Abernathy’s report.  We believe there can only be a couple of rounds of additional news holding company consolidation before the ‘fire sales’ give way to industry insolvency. 

ReNews is designed to capitalize on this moment of crisis and opportunity by injecting a new option – real change.  Change is most possible when the entrenched status quo fails.

The cruel details of this consolidation of news providers are visible in the decline of the Denver Post at the hands of Alden Global Capital. This private equity firm, operating as Digital First Media, is one of a handful of investment companies that have emerged to control the majority of daily papers owned by the top-25 companies.

Furthermore, while the number of dailies owned by the top-25 companies increased 6.2% in the 10 years from 2004-2014, the total number of dailies in the U.S. dropped by 7.7% in the same period.  The total number of papers dropped still more steeply by another 10.3% in the four years from 2014-2018, largely due to closing of papers by the private equity firms.  

The focus of Abernathy’s concern are the expanding news deserts across America.  The interactive graphic below shows the current status of local news availability by county across the US.  

Among the implications of these disturbing trends covered in the 2022 State of Local News Report are:

  • further consolidation of newspaper ownership in the hands of a small number of holding companies,
  • continued shuttering of papers across America (news deserts), and
  • deep cuts in newsroom reporters and editors at the papers that remain (news drought).

ReNews’ Role in Renewal

At ReNews we believe that the ‘buy and harvest’ strategy conducted by Alden and other private equity firms is exploiting the inability of the newspaper industry to find a new and viable economic model.  If news outlets existed in a separate and defensible economic model from social media and search, they would be in a better position to restore their function in our democracy.

ReNews proposes to help privately and publicly-held publishers avoid this fate by offering our portfolio of news ecosystem innovations, as well as consulting services to help publishers with decimated staffs to adopt this sustainable Citizen experience and economic model for news.Graham, 

Trust in America: Do Americans trust their elections?

Trust in America: Do Americans trust their elections?


The Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol over the certification of the 2020 presidential election was a flashpoint for Americans and the American political system. And it highlighted several key components of a question our researchers have been studying for the last several years: Do Americans trust their elections? Our researchers discuss this moment in the broader context of how Americans view elections, including how trust is impacted by the complexity of the overall system, varying rules on how and when you can vote, and whether the candidate you support wins or loses. 

[Intro] Trust in America, in institutions, in each other, is essential to the functioning of U.S. democracy. Yet today, trust is declining. So what impact does this have on American society? In this episode, Hannah Hartig and Bradley Jones help explain trust in elections and views of the U.S. electoral system.
[Hannah Hartig] On Jan. 6, 2021, a deadly riot broke out at the U.S. Capitol over the certification of the 2020 presidential election. A group of Trump supporters stormed the building over what they thought was a stolen election. This event was a flashpoint for Americans and the American political system. And it’s a culmination of a question we’ve been thinking about for the last several years, which is, “Do Americans trust their elections?”
[Bradley Jones] Right, and one of key things I understand about the U.S. system is just how varied it is across the country, and even within states, because elections are run and administered at a very local level, usually, the county level. And that means that voters, even living in the same state, can experience elections in very different ways. One consistent pattern that we’ve seen is that Americans have more trust in their local system that they’re familiar with. And contributing to that is, surely, the complexity of the overall system when you piece it all together.
[Hannah Hartig] Another way that this dynamic happens in American elections is through vote method. So whether a person cast their ballot in-person or by mail. And that was certainly something that we saw in 2020 as well. Typically, Americans go to polling places and cast their ballot in-person, but some states expanded access to that vote by mail option, in light of the global pandemic. And what you saw was that some Americans weren’t necessarily experienced or familiar with that method of voting. People had slightly less confidence that votes casts by mail would be counted accurately. And another thing that we see is the winning and losing effect on election. So, what we mean by this is that we ask people whether they expect elections will be run and administered well, whether votes will be counted as cast? And we see that voters who supported the losing candidate in a particular election become less likely to say that elections were run well, or that votes were counted accurately. And you see the opposite among voters who supported the winning candidate.
[Bradley Jones] So, this is probably most clear when we look at the 2016 and 2020 elections, and we look at Trump voters. So, ahead of the 2016 election, much like the 2020 election, there was a lot of messaging coming out of the Trump campaign that there were likely gonna be problems with the vote, and that he wouldn’t concede the election, because it must have been fraud if he lost it. And so we saw ahead of both of those elections that Trump’s supporters compared to supporters of the Democratic candidate were substantially less confident in the process. When Trump won the 2016 election, his voters suddenly become much more confident in the process and say the election was run well, compared to what it looked like in 2020, when he lost the election.
[Hannah Hartig] So how partisans evaluate their elections pull in different directions. Democrats think that there are hurdles to the voting process and election rules that make it more difficult for people to cast their ballots. Republicans think that expanding these rules and making it easier to vote would make elections less secure. So those things are naturally at tension with one another, and likely why we’re not gonna see the polarizing aspect of American elections go away anytime soon.
[Bradley Jones] In a lot of ways, these election rules can seem kind of dry, but they’ve really become the focus of partisan conflict in the last few years. Elections are the primary way that we connect politicians to the public, and if faith in the electoral system is eroded, it has incredibly important implications for the overall system.
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