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Fact Sheets: News Media and Political Attitudes in Western Europe

May 17, 2018

News Media and Political Attitudes in the United Kingdom

Below are specific findings about news media attitudes and habits in the United Kingdom. The findings come from a Pew Research Center survey about news media and politics across eight Western European countries conducted from Oct. 30 to Dec. 20, 2017. The survey covered five countries in the north (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom) and three in the south (France, Italy and Spain).

    Views of the news media in the UK

    The sense of importance of and trust in the news media vary considerably by country. In general, adults in northern European countries – for example, Sweden and Germany – are more likely to say the news media are very important and that they trust the news media, while people in France and Italy are the least likely to say this.

    Among British adults, 43% consider the news media very important to society, but only around a third (32%) say they trust the news media. This includes just 5% who trust the news media a lot.

    In most of the countries surveyed, people who hold populist views are less likely to say the news media are important and to trust the news media than people who don’t hold populist views. In general, the differences in these attitudes about the news media are small when comparing between people on the left and right of the ideological spectrum.

    This pattern holds true in the UK as well: Just 26% of people with populist views say they trust the news media, compared with 43% of those without populist views. On the question of importance, 39% of those with populist views say the news media are very important for society in the UK, compared with 54% of those with non-populist views.

    Main sources used for news in the UK

    When it comes to the news sources people say they turn to most frequently, the divides between adults with and without populist leanings are not as strong as those seen for attitudes about the news media more generally. And in the southern countries, there tend to be larger divides in main news source preference between people on the left and right of the ideological spectrum than between those with and without populist views.

    In the UK, those on the left and right do not differ in regard to the media source they turn to most for news. Both those on the ideological right and left cite the BBC as their main news source.

    Where users place outlets' ideologies, on the right and on the left

    For many of the news outlets across the eight countries, people who use an outlet to get news tend to think the outlet is closer to their own left-right ideological position. In the UK, this is true for five outlets asked about: BBC, ITV, The Guardian, The Times and HuffPost. For these outlets, news users on either the right or left tend to place them closer to their own ideology. This pattern does not occur for the news channel Sky, which right-aligned and left-aligned news users agree on its placement. The tabloid newspapers the Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror are not included in this analysis, because they did not have a large enough sample of left or right users to analyze.

    In general, where the public places an outlet tends to differ from where the average audience actually sits ideologically. For each of the news outlets asked about in the survey, the average audience (based on self-reported usage) tends to fall near the ideological center. People who have heard of each outlet, however, tend to place the outlet either farther to the left or farther to the right than the actual ideological position of the outlet’s audience.

    The UK is no exception. For most outlets, while their news audiences are near the ideological center, people who have heard of the outlets tend to think they lean slightly more to the right. The Times, for example, has an audience that sits at about the middle of the left-right spectrum (3.2  on the 0-to-6 scale), but when asked to place the outlet on the same left-right scale, people who have heard of The Times place it farther to the right (at 3.8).

    Trust in news media outlets

    In seven of the eight countries surveyed, the most trusted news outlet asked about is the public news organization in each country. In the UK, around eight-in-ten adults (79%) say they trust the public news organization BBC.

    As with trust in the news media generally, trust in specific outlets varies by populist leanings, with those who hold populist views expressing lower levels of trust than those who don’t.

    In the UK, for example, those with populist leanings are 29 percentage points less likely than those with non-populist views to say they trust The Times. But, ideologically right- and left-leaning adults are equally likely to trust The Times.

    Social media usage and views

    Many people in Western Europe get news through social media, with Facebook cited as the most widely used platform for news.

    A majority of adults in the UK (55%) get news on social media, including 38% who get news on social media daily. Facebook is the most common social network used for news. In the UK, young people (those 18 to 29 years old) are more likely to get news on social media daily than those 50 and older (61% vs. 19%).

    About half or more social media news consumers in each of the eight countries surveyed say they are familiar with the sources they see on social media. Still, sizeable minorities say they typically do not pay attention to the source of the news they encounter there.

    Social media news consumers in the UK are similar to other Western Europeans – 58% are familiar with the news sources they find on social media, but around three-in-ten do not pay attention to the sources there.

    Find out more

    Read the methodology and full report for more on the UK and the other seven Western European countries included in the survey. For global data on media habits and attitudes see the report “Publics Globally Want Unbiased News Coverage, but Are Divided on Whether Their News Media Deliver.”