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France, Spain and Italy are more fragmented in their news sources and more negative toward the news media than other countries.
Pew Research Center / 05.14.2018
In Western Europe, public views of the news media are divided by populist leanings – more than left-right political positions – according to a new Pew Research Center public opinion survey conducted in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Across all eight countries, those who hold populist views value and trust the news media less, and they also give the media lower marks for coverage of major issues, such as immigration, the economy and crime.1
Trust in the news media dips lowest in Spain, France, the UK and Italy, with roughly a quarter of people with populist views in each country expressing confidence in the news media. By contrast, those without populist leanings are 8 to 31 percentage points more likely to at least somewhat trust the news media across the countries surveyed.
In Spain, Germany and Sweden, public trust in the media also divides along the left-right ideological spectrum, but the magnitude of difference pales in comparison to the divides between those with and without populist leanings.
When it comes to how the news media perform on key functions, broad majorities of the publics rate the news media highly for generally covering the most important issues of the day. This includes majorities of both those who do and do not hold populist views, though there are still significant differences in the magnitude of those ratings. More substantial divides between those two groups occur around how the news media do in covering three specific issues asked about here: the economy, immigration and crime. (See detailed tables for more information.)
People who embrace populist views express much less satisfaction with news coverage of these issues. In Spain, for example, those with populist leanings are 33 percentage points less likely than those without such leanings to rate the news media’s coverage of the economy as good. And in Germany, people with populist views are 29 to 31 percentage points less likely to applaud the news media’s coverage of immigration and crime than people who do not hold populist views.
In addition to within country differences, public attitudes toward the news media also diverge along regional lines. This is most evident when it comes to trust in the media, with public confidence considerably higher in the northern European countries polled, as opposed to the southern countries.2 The UK is somewhat anomalous, resembling southern, more than northern, Europe in its low level of public trust in the media (32%).
And while majorities in all eight countries say the news media are at least somewhat important to the functioning of society, there are large differences among the countries in the portions who say that their role is very important.
In a question asked in a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults about trust in information from national news organizations, Americans display similar levels of trust as those in the Netherlands and Germany. About seven-in-ten Americans (72%) say they trust the information they get from national news media at least somewhat, with 20% saying they trust it lot.
Despite the fact that people with populist views are much less satisfied and trusting of the news media, they often rely on the same primary source for news as those without populist views. This is the case in five of the eight countries surveyed: Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and the UK. In four of these five countries, a single news provider dominates as the main source for news.
In southern Europe, the media landscape is more fragmented, with no single news provider named as the main news source by more than 21% of adults. It is also the case that in this part of Europe, left-right political identity is more aligned with people’s choice of main news source than their populist leanings.
In Italy, for example, 27% of those on the left turn to national broadcaster Rai News as their main source for news, compared with just 14% of those on the right. Italians on the right (30%) are more likely to turn to private broadcaster Mediaset News than left-aligned adults (6%). While there are some differences by populist views in Italy, the divide tends to be smaller when compared with those along the left-right political spectrum.
Here again the UK stands apart. Even as the BBC dominates as the top main news source for British adults –by both populists and non-populists – there is still a large difference between the portions of these two groups who name it as their primary source. Just 42% of those with populist views name the BBC as their main news source, compared with six-in-ten among those who do not hold populist views. Left-right ideological differences do not emerge: roughly half on both the left (48%) and the right (51%) name the BBC as their main news source.
These are some of the key findings of a major Pew Research Center survey of 16,114 adults about news media usage and attitudes across eight Western European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – conducted from Oct. 30 to Dec. 20, 2017. Together, these eight European Union member states3 account for roughly 69% of the EU population and 75% of the EU economy.
Publics in Western Europe view news outlets as more partisan than what is reflected in their audiences
In each country, in addition to volunteering their main news source, respondents were asked about eight specific news outlets. These were selected by researchers to capture a range of news platforms, outlets with different funding sources, and diversity in their ideological leanings. Generally, people tend to describe outlets that they turn to for news as being relatively close to their own left-right political identity.4
This differs, however, from where the average audience actually sits politically. When asked whether people regularly turned to each of the eight outlets for news, the self-reported audiences of those outlets tend to cluster around the ideological center.
In general, people who have heard of the outlets tend to place them either farther to the left or farther to the right than the self-reported audience results, showing that perceptions of polarization exist in the countries surveyed even though the audience figures reveal smaller divides.
Take, for example, the French private TV channel TF1. As shown in the accompanying graphic, TF1’s audience – those who say they rely on it regularly for news – is at about the middle of the left-right continuum (3.3 on the 0-to-6 scale.) Yet, when people in France who have heard of TF1 are asked to place it on the same left-right scale, they place it significantly farther to the right (at 4.1).
Many Western Europeans get news through social media, with Facebook being used most often
In seven of the eight countries polled, a third or more of adults get news at least daily from social media. The share that does so is highest in Italy, where half of adults get news daily via social media. In France, Spain, Italy and Germany, people with populist leanings are more likely to report getting news from social media platforms than those without such views.
Across all eight countries, Facebook is by far the most-frequently mentioned social media news source. More than 60% of social media news consumers in each country name Facebook as the social media platform they turn to most often for news. In some countries, Facebook is named as the main source for news overall by roughly 5% of adults, such as 6% of Italians and 5% of Spaniards.
Given recent concern about misinformation online, it is worthwhile to note that social media news consumers are not always discerning about their sources of news and information.
Although most social media news consumers in Western Europe say they are familiar with the news sources they encounter, sizable minorities in each country say they don’t pay attention to where news on Facebook or other social media platforms comes from. The share of those who say they do not pay attention is roughly three-in-ten or more in France (35%), the Netherlands (34%), Italy (32%) and the UK (29%).
Further, whether or not the news seen on social media comes from sources people vet, few describe the news they see on social media as mostly aligned with their own political views.
Country-specific dynamics of the news media in the UK
The UK stands out as unique from the patterns we see in the other seven countries studied. On one hand, British adults are the most likely to have a common news source: 48% say the BBC is their main source for news. This level of clustering around a single main news source is similar to the other northern countries surveyed, such as Sweden or the Netherlands.
On the other hand, the British express low levels of trust and approval of their news media overall, similar to what the survey finds in the three southern countries surveyed (Italy, Spain and France). Just 32% of adults in the UK say they trust the news media at least somewhat, and roughly half or fewer say their news media do a good job of getting the facts right (48%), provide coverage independent of corporate influence (46%), or are politically neutral in their news coverage (37%). And when it comes to outlets besides the BBC, there are notable left-right political divides in usage. The magnitude of those differences in the UK looks similar to what occurs in the more ideologically divided southern countries studied.
1. Populist views, more than left-right identity, play a role in opinions of the news media in Western Europe
Western Europeans tend to highly value the news media in their countries generally but the level of trust they place in the media varies among countries. Differences also emerge between people with and without populist leanings. In nearly all eight countries included in this survey, those who hold populist views also give the news media lower marks for coverage of major issues, such as immigration, the economy and crime.6
The study also finds that attitudes toward the news media vary along regional lines. In general, Europeans in southern countries (France, Italy and Spain) as well as those in the UK are more skeptical of the news media than northern Europeans.7
Broad majorities say the news media are important to society, but the level of importance varies by country and populist leanings
Across the eight European countries studied, three-quarters or more of the publics say the news media are at least somewhat important to the functioning of the country’s society. But the share that says that the news media’s role is very important varies significantly.
Sweden, Germany and Spain sit at the top: Strong majorities in each of those three countries (between 59% and 61% of adults) say the news media are very important to the functioning of society. In France, on the other hand, less than a third feel this way, the smallest share among the eight countries surveyed.
Views on the importance of the news media are divided within each country as well. In most of the countries surveyed, populist leanings – more than left-right political identity – are a key factor, with those holding populist views less likely to value the news media.
Differences between those who hold populist views and those who don’t range from a low of 11 percentage points in Denmark to 24 points in Germany. Spain is the only country where there is no significant difference between these two groups on this question.
When left-right differences do emerge, they are more minimal than those along populist lines. In Germany for instance, 70% of those who place themselves on the left of the ideological scale say the news media are very important, compared with 59% of those on the right, a gap of 11 percentage points. In comparison, the gap between those who embrace populist views and those who don’t is 24 percentage points in Germany. In three countries – Sweden, Denmark and Spain – no significant difference exists in divides between those on the left and right.
Trust in news media differs by region and populist leanings
Few Western Europeans surveyed deeply trust the news media. No more than one-in-five in any of the eight countries say they trust the news media a lot.
Southern Europeans, in particular, are skeptical of the news media. Roughly a third or less in Spain, France and Italy say they trust the news media, with 5% or less saying they have a lot of trust. This pattern is similar in the UK, with 5% of British adults trusting the news media a lot. In contrast, trust is substantially higher in the other northern European countries surveyed.
Trust in the news media also varies between those with and without populist leanings. People who hold populist views are less trusting of the news media than those who do not hold such beliefs. The divides range from 31 percentage points in Germany to 8 points in Italy.
People with populist views in Spain, France, the UK and Italy are particularly distrusting of the news media. Only about a quarter (26%) of populists in each of these countries say they trust the news media at least somewhat.
Whether someone identifies as politically on the left or right has less influence than populist views on whether they trust the news media. Western Europeans who place themselves on the ideological left and those who place themselves on the ideological right generally agree on how much they trust the news media. Only in three of the countries studied are publics divided in their trust of the news media along the left-right ideological spectrum. In Spain, those on the right are more likely to trust the news media than those on the left. In Germany and Sweden the opposite is true – those on the left are more likely to trust the news media than those on the right.
News media receive low ratings for political neutrality and immigration coverage, with large divides among those with populist views
Overall, Western Europeans give the news media fairly high ratings on several core functions, though attitudes are more negative in the southern European countries and the UK. Among five measures asked, Western Europeans give the news media lowest marks for providing news independent of corporate influence and for being politically neutral in their coverage. For instance, less than half of the publics in Spain (45%), France (43%), the UK (37%) and Italy (36%) say that their news media are doing a good job being politically neutral in their coverage. On the other hand, broad majorities in all eight countries say their news media do a good job covering the important stories of the day. (For more on how Western Europeans compare with the rest of the world, see the Pew Research Center report on 38 countries and their attitudes toward the news media.)
Overall, embracing populist views is also a strong divider on these questions about news media attitudes. For example, on whether their news media are politically neutral in how they present the news, differences between the two groups – those with populist views and those without – appear in six of the eight countries surveyed. And the gaps range from a 30-percentage-point difference in Germany to a 12-point difference in the Netherlands. (See Appendix D for detailed tables on more breakdowns of attitudes toward the media.)
When it comes to coverage of three specific topics in their country – the economy, crime, and immigration –people overall give the news media their highest marks for coverage of the economy and lowest marks for coverage of immigration. Roughly six-in-ten or more in all eight countries say the news media do a somewhat or very good job covering the economy. Similarly, in all but one country, broad majorities say the same about coverage of crime.
But roughly half or fewer in four of the eight countries say the news media cover immigration well, including 44% in the UK. Attitudes are more positive in Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, where about two-thirds say their news media do a good job covering the topic of immigration.
As with the importance of and trust in the news media, there is a wide gap between those who hold populist views and those who don’t when it comes to views of how well the news media cover these topics.
In general, those who hold populist views tend to be less satisfied with the news media’s coverage of all three topics. In the case of the economy, this gap ranges from a 33-percentage-point difference in Spain to a 12-point difference in the UK and Denmark. For example, in Spain, 52% of those who hold populist views say that the news media do a good job covering the economy, compared with 85% of those who don’t hold populist views.
This divide between those with populist views and those without also exists for assessments of the news media’s coverage of immigration and crime. In the case of immigration, the gap between the two groups ranges from a 29-point difference in Germany to an 11-point difference in Italy and Denmark, while for crime the difference ranges from 31 points in Germany to 9 points in the Netherlands (there was no statistical difference between the two groups in Italy on crime). See detailed tables for figures on the other topics.
Assessments of the news media’s coverage of immigration and crime also show left-right divisions in most countries. Still, populism is the larger divide.
2. Southern European countries more fragmented in news sources, but for nearly all countries, top main source is public, not private
The populist divides seen in attitudes about the news media are not as prominent when it comes to the sources Western Europeans turn to for news.7
This survey also finds that news usage varies regionally. Southern, more than northern, Europeans are more fragmented, with left-right political differences more influential than populist leanings in shaping where people turn for news.8 Also, in five of the eight countries surveyed, at least three-in-ten or more adults share the same main news source. In the three southern countries, no more than 21% of adults name the same source as the primary one they use to get news.
Additionally, in all but one of the eight countries, the top-named main source for news is a public news organization rather than a private one. The one exception is France, where both a private organization, TF1, and a public one, France Télévisions, are named at about equal rates.9
People from southern European countries more fragmented in their main news source; for nearly all countries, public news organizations sit at the top
Five of the Western European countries studied in this report have a large portion of adults who share a common main source for news. At the high end are the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands, where 48%, 39% and 37% of adults, respectively, name the same main source for news: the BBC in the UK, Sveriges Television/Radio (SVT/Radio) in Sweden, and Nederlandse Publieke Omroep (NPO) in the Netherlands. In Germany and Denmark, about three-in-ten adults name the same source, including two public news organizations in Demark that both reach this level (TV 2 News and DR News). In France, Italy and Spain, however, audiences are more fragmented, with no more than 21% naming the same main source for news.
Another indicator of audience fragmentation is the number of outlets named as a main source by at least a small portion of the population. In other words, how wide of a mix of main news sources there is even if those sources are turned to by smaller pockets of people. In most countries, only a few outlets are named by 5% or more of the public. Germany has the fewest outlets that reach this threshold: The public broadcasting organization ARD (32% name it as their main news source), public-service TV broadcaster ZDF (7%), and the news magazine Der Spiegel (6%). Spain and Italy, on the other hand, stand out for having the most outlets named by at least 5% of adults: seven in each, including public news organizations in both countries (Radio y Televisión Española [RTVE] in Spain and Rai News in Italy), as well as Facebook and Google.
One consistent pattern across seven of the eight countries is that the most-named main news source is publicly owned, such as Rai News in Italy, the BBC in the UK and NPO in the Netherlands. This differs from the U.S., where even the largest public news outlets, NPR and PBS, are not used as universally as private news outlets. When U.S. voters named their main source for election news in 2016, NPR was only cited by 4% of Americans and PBS was cited by only 1%, placing them behind at least seven other news sources, including Fox News, CNN and Facebook.
Spanish and Italian adults display ideological divides in main news source; other countries more unified
When it comes to main news sources, there is no consistent divide between those who hold and don’t hold populist views or between those on the left and right. When some divides do emerge, they tend be in the south. There, left-right divides over news sources are larger than those based on populist views.
In Italy, for example, 30% of adults who place themselves on the right politically name Mediaset News as their main news source, compared with only 6% of adults on the left. The difference by populist views among Italian adults for Mediaset News is smaller: 24% of those who hold populist views vs. 11% of those don’t. And for Italy’s Rai News, 20% of both populists and non-populists name it as their main news source, compared with a left-right difference of 13 percentage points.
Spain also displays large left-right ideological divisions. RTVE, for example, is twice as popular as a main source for right-aligned adults (16%) as for left-aligned adults (8%). Meanwhile, those on the left are more likely to cite the TV station laSexta (12% vs. 5% of those on the right).
France and Denmark show some divide between adults on the left and right but less so than in Italy and Spain. In France, among the top main news sources, people on the left most often name France TV and TF1, while those on the right most often name BFM – though substantial portions on both sides use all three. In Denmark, both sides list the same top two main sources (DR News and TV 2 News).
The remaining four countries show a great deal of political unity in their main news sources. In the Netherlands, for example, none of the top-two main sources – NPO and NU.nl – show any ideological difference in use; both are cited at roughly the same rates by those on the left and those on the right. In Sweden, both sides are most likely to name SVT/Radio as their main source, followed by Aftonbladet, while Germans on the left and the right share ARD as their top source. The same is true in the UK with BBC as the shared top source.
Across range of nationally oriented news outlets, audiences in Western Europe tend to concentrate around ideological center
To get a better sense of the full extent of peoples’ news diets beyond their main news source, the survey also asked respondents in each country whether they regularly get news from each of eight specific news outlets. The sources were selected for a range of audience size, type of platform, funding (public vs. private), and appeal to different political groups (see Appendix A for a more detailed explanation on how outlets were selected).
Regular usage of these outlets follows the patterns seen in the main news sources cited by adults in those countries. In most countries the top main news source that people name also tends to have the largest audience of the eight outlets asked about.10
The lack of deep left-right ideological divides in usage of specific outlets is further revealed when examining outlets’ full audience profiles. Even for outlets that have greater usage among those on the left or those on the right, looking at the full audience profile of each outlet reveals that the average audience member for most outlets lands very close to the center of the left-right scale.
This can be explained by two things: 1) The often large portions of people on both sides of the political spectrum that use the outlet, even if one side tends to use it more than the other, and 2) That few adults in each country place themselves at the far ends of the ideological scale. This then pulls the ideological audience profile of each outlet closer to the middle (a 3 on the 0-to-6 scale) than to the ends.
For example, in Spain’s case, Televisión Española’s (TVE) audience (those who regularly use it) is more right-aligned than left-aligned (18% are on the left, 40% are in the center and 32% are on the right). Still, a plurality of the audience falls at a 3 on the left-right ideological scale (40%).
This pattern is true across all eight countries surveyed. The audiences of all the outlets in each country tend to cluster toward the middle of the left-right scale (3 in the 0-to-6 scale.)
In Sweden, where the left-right spread is the narrowest, for example, the average audience member for all outlets lands between 3.3 and 3.5 on the scale – a gap of just .2.11
3. News outlets are less politically polarized than Western Europeans perceive
Another way to examine attitudes across media outlets is to look at the relationship between the ideological profile of the audience of each outlet and where people think it falls on the left-right spectrum (o-to-6 scale). The majority of the 64 outlets included in this study (eight outlets in each of the eight Western European countries) have audiences that tend to cluster around the ideological center. However, differences emerge when looking at where people who have heard of the outlets place them on the same left-right spectrum. In most cases, people’s perception of the left-right ideological orientation of a news outlet is more partisan than the profile of the outlet’s actual audience.
In part, this difference is due to the fact that those who use an outlet are more likely to see that outlet as being closer to their own left-right ideological leanings.
People tend to think the news outlets they use reflect their own ideological position
In addition to examining the audience’s ideological composition for eight outlets in each country, the study also asked people who have heard of the outlets where they think each falls on the left-right ideological scale, where 0 represents the far left and 6 represents the far right. The results show that where people place an outlet is tied very closely to their own ideology, as well as their use of that outlet for news.
For many outlets, news users on either the left or the right tend to think the outlet is closer to their own left-right ideological leaning. This comes through most strongly in the UK, Italy, Denmark, France and the Netherlands. The pattern is less prominent in Germany, Sweden and Spain.
For example, in the UK, 98% of British adults have heard of The Guardian. Among those who have heard of the newspaper, 33% place the outlet on the left side of the ideological scale (0-2) and 24% place it on the right side (4-6).
Differences emerge, however, when comparing The Guardian’s left- and right-aligned users. Among users on the right, more than four-in-ten (45%) say the newspaper’s political leaning is to the right of the ideological scale, compared with just 12% of left-aligned users. Conversely, a large majority of left-aligned users (73%) say The Guardian is on the left, compared with just 32% of right-aligned users.
It is also worth noting that for many outlets, a large portion of adults who have heard of an outlet decline to place it on the scale. Within each country, on average, between 21% and 29% of adults who have heard of a news outlet choose not to place it at all. This tends to occur more among non-users than users of an outlet and also more often for digital-only media outlets. For example, 49% of Dutch adults who have heard of the digital-native news website Joop.nl do not place it, and 51% of Swedes do not place the Swedish digital-native news site Flashback.
Unlike users, non-users tend to perceive outlets as being farther away from their own left-right ideological leaning. For example, while 32% of French non-users of BFM on the right think BFM is also on the right, 50% of left-aligned non-users think the outlet is on the right.
Ideological placement of news outlets in Western Europe
For the majority of outlets studied, the self-reported audiences tend to cluster around the ideological center. But in general, people who have heard of each outlet tend to place it either farther to the left or farther to the right than the self-reported audience results. For example, French TV channel TF1’s self-reported users in the survey are concentrated around the center of the left-right continuum (at a 3.3 on the 0-to-6 scale.) Yet, when people who have heard of TF1 are asked to place it on the same left-right scale, they place TF1 significantly farther to the right (at 4.1). In Sweden, the newspaper Aftonbladet’s audience is also near the center of the left-right spectrum (3.3). However, people who’ve heard of it place the outlet farther to the left (2.4).
4. Most Western Europeans trust public broadcasters, but those who hold populist views less so
In addition to the open-ended question about people’s main news source, the survey also asked respondents a series of questions (including those about trust) about eight specific outlets in their country, allowing for a deeper understanding of how individuals feel about their news options. The eight specific news outlets for each country were identified in a way that aimed to be familiar to respondents. Therefore, in some cases, the eight outlets asked about are more specific publications or outlets within broader news organizations discussed in the main news source section. For example, in France the survey asked specifically about the television news channel France 2, which is part of the larger France Télévisions (France TV) family of channels. For each of the eight outlets, respondents were first asked if they had heard of the outlet, and if they had, they then were asked if they trusted or distrusted it.
In all but one of the countries surveyed, the public news organization listed among the eight news outlets receives the highest level of trust. The exception is Spain, where even though a majority trusts the public broadcaster, Televisión Española (TVE), more people trust the private television outlet Antena3.
As with trust in the news media generally, political divides in trust of specific outlets emerge more consistently along populist views than along the left-right ideological spectrum. Across all eight countries, people who hold populist views tend to express lower levels of trust in specific news outlets than those who don’t hold populist views.12 However, in the three southern countries – France, Italy and Spain – left-right ideology plays as large a role, or larger, as populism in trust levels in specific outlets.13
Public broadcasters generally more trusted than other outlets
To gain a deeper sense of how individuals in each country feel about their news options, the survey asked about trust in eight specific news outlets. Respondents were first asked if they had heard of each outlet, and if they had, they then were asked if they trusted or distrusted it. (See Appendix A for more information on how the eight outlets were chosen.)
In seven countries, the most trusted outlet is the public news organization, such as Sveriges Television (SVT) in Sweden (90% trust) and Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS) in the Netherlands (89%). Across these seven countries, roughly two-thirds or more say they trust their public news organization.
Spain, however, stands apart. While a majority of Spaniards (57%) say they trust the public broadcaster Televisión Española (TVE), 64% say the same about Antena3, a private television station owned by Atresmedia.
Private television broadcasters also garner high marks, even if not as high as public news organizations. In seven of the eight countries surveyed, at least half of the public say they trust these outlets, ranging from a high of 81% in Sweden for TV4 to 55% for Sky in the UK. Only in Germany is trust in private television outlets relatively low; roughly four-in-ten Germans say they trust RTL (39%) and Sat1 (43%).
Populist views relate to trust in media in all countries; left-right political ideology in southern Europe only
Across the eight countries surveyed, populist attitudes are strongly associated with trust in specific outlets. For most outlets asked about in each country, those who hold populist views express lower levels of trust than those without populist views. The largest differences occur in Spain, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, where those with populist views are about 30 percentage points less likely than those with non-populist views to say they trust TVE, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), The Times, and de Volkskrant, respectively. When it comes to public news organizations, Spain stands out as having the largest gap in trust between populists and non-populists (see Appendix D for detailed tables of differences in trust by populist views).
The only two outlets of the 64 asked about where populists display significantly higher trust than non-populists are Nya Tider in Sweden (which 4% of Swedes use weekly) and Mediaset News in Italy (which 56% of Italians use weekly).
In the five northern countries surveyed, the populist, non-populist divisions in trust are significantly larger than the differences in trust between those on the ideological left and right. Looking at Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet, for example, there is a gap of 24 percentage points between those who embrace populist views and those who don’t, but only a five-point gap between those on the ideological left and those on the ideological right.
In the southern countries, however, trust is divided along the left-right ideological spectrum – and these differences are as large, or larger, as those based on populism. For example, in Italy, those who place themselves on the left of the 0-to-6 ideological scale are 21 percentage points less likely to trust Il Giornale than people on the right. But for this same outlet, there is no significant division between those with and without populist views.
5. Many Western Europeans get news via social media, but in some countries, substantial minorities do not pay attention to the source
While long-standing public news organizations are the main source for news for most Western Europeans, newer digital pathways to news are certainly gaining exposure. When asked their top social media site for news, respondents name Facebook the most often, by far. There is also evidence that publics have a tenuous relationship with the outlets they see on social media – as many as a third of adults in Western European countries say they don’t pay attention to the sources they get news from there.
In the social media space, populist views and left-right political divides play only a limited role in people’s news behaviors. While those with populist views tend to express lower levels of trust in specific news outlets and give the news media lower marks for coverage of major issues, those divides don’t translate into social media news habits in all countries. Those who hold populist views are more likely to get news from social media in France, Italy, Spain and Germany, but not in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden or the UK.
Across countries, social media is used to get news, with Facebook cited as the most widely used site for news
In six of the eight countries surveyed, more than half say they ever get news from social media. And much of this news use occurs on a daily basis, especially in Italy, where half do so at least once a day.
Getting news from social media is least common in France and Germany, where majorities (55% and 60%, respectively) say they do not get any news on social media.
Across all eight countries, Facebook is by far the social media site most used for news. At least six-in-ten social media news consumers in each country cite Facebook as the social network they get news on most often. And indeed, in a separate question asking individuals to volunteer the outlet they use as their main source for news, 5% of adults in Spain and 6% in Italy name Facebook as that source. (See Chapter 2 for more information on main news source.)
Facebook is followed distantly by Twitter, which is cited by between 4% and 21% of adults in these countries as the social media site they use most often for news.
These findings are very similar to social media trends seen in the United States, where Facebook is the most common news source among social media sites (45% of U.S. adults get news there, with the next highest social media sites capturing 18% or less).
Younger adults are more likely to get news on social media
In all eight countries surveyed, at least half of those ages 18-29 get news daily from social media. Among older adults, the share that gets news from social media daily is much lower. In France, for example, 69% of 18- to 29-year-olds get news from social media every day, while just 38% of those ages 30-49 do and an even smaller portion (17%) of those over 50 do – a 52-point gap between the youngest and oldest age groups. There is a similar age gap of at least 31 points in all eight countries. (See how Western Europe compares to other countries around the world in getting news from social media.)
In some countries, as many as a third say they don’t pay attention to sources of news they get from social media
One question often raised about the reliance on social media as a pathway to news is whether people notice the actual source of the news they find there.
When asked whether or not most news they see on social media comes from news sources they are familiar with or if they do not pay attention to sources there, more than half of social media news consumers in each country say most sources they get news from on social media are ones they are familiar with. That ranges from a high of 72% of social media news consumers in Denmark, down to about half in France (53%) and Italy (51%).
However, across the eight countries, between 16% and 35% of social media news consumers say they do not pay attention to the sources they see on social media at all. Roughly a third of adults say this in France, the Netherlands and Italy, while it is least common in Sweden (16%).
And indeed, more social media news consumers in most countries say they do not pay attention to sources than say the sources are mostly unfamiliar ones. As little as 4% in Denmark to 16% in Italy say that most of the news they see on social media comes from unfamiliar news sources.
Looking deeper into these responses, the frequency of social media use for news connects to the likelihood of recognizing familiar sources. Those who get news from social media on a daily basis are more likely than those who get news from these sites less often to be familiar with the sources they see there.
This is true in all eight countries, with the largest differences in France and the Netherlands. For instance, 58% of daily social media news consumers in France say they are familiar with the sources they encounter on social media, compared with 38% of less frequent consumers.
In most countries, there is little difference in familiarity with news sources between adults on the left and right, as well as those who with or without populist views.14
People encounter news on social media that reflects a political view different from their own more often than in personal discussions
In both social media activity and personal discussions, most people are exposed to a variety of political views. Still, in most countries, personal discussions conform more to one’s own views than do discussions on social media.
Across all eight nations surveyed, solid majorities of social media news consumers say the news they see on social media is rarely or only sometimes in line with their own political views. This ranges from 61% in Sweden to 83% in France. Conversely, no more than 26% in any country say the news they see on social media is often in line with their own political views.
The “echo chamber” effect is more common when it comes to personal discussions about the news. In a question posed to all adults in each country (rather than specifically to social media news consumers), about a quarter to a half of adults say the views they hear in personal discussions are often in line with their own. The highest share occurs in Sweden (51%), which also has the second-highest portion of social media consumers who say they mostly see their own views in the news they get on social media (22%).
In seven of the eight countries surveyed, these findings on how often people encounter news or discussions that challenge their own political views – whether on social media or in face-to-face conversations – holds true regardless of ideological leanings. That is, in most countries, both left-aligned and right-aligned social media news consumers are about equally likely to say the news they see on social media is often in line with their own views. Among all adults, the same is true for the political views they encounter during personal discussions.
The UK is an exception: Social media news consumers on the left are more likely to say that the news they encounter is often in line with their own views than social media news consumers on the right (29% vs. 9%). And among all adults in the UK, those on the left are more likely to have personal discussions with people who hold political views similar to their own (31% vs. 23%). (France shows a slight political difference in who gets news in line with their views on social media, but to a much lesser degree: 16% on the left get news in line with their views on social media, vs. 8% on the right).
The reality of any “echo chamber” effect on social media does not necessarily reflect the desires of social media news consumers in these countries. Spain, for example, registered the highest percentage of social media consumers who see news that is often in line with their views (26%). But among those news consumers, Spain also has the highest share who says that they prefer a greater mix of views in their social media content (84%).
Use of social media for news does not tie closely to levels of trust in the news media
In Germany, Spain and the UK, social media news consumers are less likely to trust the news media than those who don’t use social media for news. Even in these countries, the difference in media trust between social media news consumers and non-consumers is small – no larger than 7 points. In the rest of the countries surveyed, there are no differences between the two groups.
In some countries, those with populist views are more likely to get news from social media
In four of the eight countries surveyed, populists are more likely to use social media for news than those without populist views. The difference is greatest in France where the gap between populists and non-populists reaches 18 percentage points.
In most countries, populist leanings do not relate to whether people are exposed to news on social media in line with their own political views or whether they pay attention to news sources on social media.
In two countries though, the Netherlands and the UK, these populist views play a role. In both countries populists are about half as likely as non-populists to say that they find views on social media that are often in line with their own (12% in the Netherlands, compared with 22% and 10% vs. 21% in the UK).
In addition, populists are also more likely to say they don’t pay attention to sources on social media in these countries. In the Netherlands, 39% of those with populist views say they don’t pay attention to sources on social media, compared with 28% of those without populist views. For the UK, the respective numbers are 33% vs. 21%.
Amy Mitchell, Director, Journalism Research
Katie Simmons, Associate Director, Research
Katerina Eva Matsa, Associate Director, Research
Laura Silver, Senior Researcher
Elisa Shearer, Research Analyst
Courtney Johnson, Research Associate
Kyle Taylor, Research Assistant
Mason Walker, Research Assistant
Michael Barthel, Research Associate
James Bell, Vice President, Global Strategy
Caldwell Bishop, Research Associate
Hanyu Chwe, Research Assistant
Danielle Cuddington, Research Analyst
Claudia Deane, Vice President, Research
Moira Fagan, Research Assistant
Janell Fetterolf, Research Associate
Sophia Fedeli, Research Assistant
Martha McRoy, Research Methodologist
Patrick Moynihan, Associate Director, International Research Methods
Jacob Poushter, Senior Researcher
Audrey Powers, Administrative Manager
Galen Stocking, Computational Social Scientist
Bruce Stokes, Director, Global Economic Attitudes
Nami Sumida, Research Analyst
Richard Wike, Director, Global Attitudes Research
Editorial and graphic design
Peter Bell, Design Director
Margaret Porteus, Information Graphics Designer
Michael Keegan, Information Graphics Designer
Shannon Greenwood, Copy Editor
David Kent, Copy Editor
Communications and web publishing
Rachel Weisel, Communications Manager
Hannah Klein, Communications Associate
Stefan S. Cornibert, Communications Manager
Rhonda Stewart, Senior Communications Manager
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Ariana Rodriguez-Gitler, Digital Producer
Stacy Rosenberg, Associate Director, Digital
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