Today’s Essential Report looks at public perceptions of the media’s political coverage and how engaged voters are with politics. There’s good and bad news.

First, the good: voters don’t believe they’re biased one way or the other. Almost 20% think the media is biased to the conservatives; 23% believe to Labor. But 55% disagree there’s pro-Liberal bias and 50% disagree about pro-Labor bias — although, interestingly, those questions attracted very high “don’t know” answers.

People are also more than twice as likely to believe the media over politicians as opposed to politicians over the media, at 37-16%. And more people agree the media does a good job of holding politicians to account than disagree, at 45-43%. People also disagree with the suggestion the media is overly critical.

After that, however, things aren’t so rosy. Only 35% of voters think the media usually reports accurately, compared to 54% who disagree. Worse, few people think the media reports all sides of stories, at 21%-69%. In fact, 23% of all voters strongly disagree that the media reports all sides of a story. And 70% of people believe the media focuses too much on personalities and not enough on policies. That elicited very strong agreement, at 21%. And more people disagreed that the media does a good job explaining issues than agreed, at 48-40%.

Nor did people think there was a surfeit of political coverage — 52% disagreed that there was too much politics in the media, but 34% agreed.

Commercial media seems to bear the brunt of people’s dissatisfaction, and particularly commercial radio. The latter was the least trusted media source when it comes to politics, with only 40% of people saying they trusted commercial radio some or a lot, and 48% saying they had little or not trust. Commercial radio also fares poorly with younger voters, who are significantly less trusting of it than older voters.

At the other end was ABC TV (76%) and radio (69%), and SBS (70%), which as we’ve seen in previous polling have very high levels of trustworthiness, including high scores on “trust a lot”. Sky News (41%) and commercial TV (45%) also fared poorly, although Sky’s problem is surely underexposure — a very high “Don’t Know” reflects its limited availability. Only 25% said they didn’t trust Sky, the lowest after the public broadcasters, whereas 48% of voters said they only trusted commercial TV and radio a little, or not at all. Newspapers fared better than broadcast media, with 53% of people trusting them, over 40% who didn’t.

Greens voters also defied stereotypes in a question about interest in politics. Far from being the most politically-engaged voters, Greens were less engaged than Labor or Liberal voters, with 15% saying they had no interest in politics, against 14% of Labor and 8% of Liberal voters. Only 8% of Greens voters following politics closely, compared to 12% and 13% for Labor and Liberal voters.

While politicians and editors may lament the lack of interest in politics, in fact 21% of people say their interest in politics has increased a little in recent years, along with 8% who say it has increased a lot. The rise is more among young people than older people, although younger voters are less likely to be interested in the first place. Only a total of 11% say their interest in politics has fallen a little or a lot.

On voting intention, the Greens have dropped another point to move to 9% but otherwise the parties are frozen, with the 2PP on 54-46 to the Coalition over Labor. The Coalition is still on 47%, Labor still on 35%.

Given Labor’s woes, the stability of the parties’ vote currently is an interesting asterisk to the growing view that the government is doomed, but 54-46 is of course perfectly satisfactory for the Coalition and the aftermath of a tough Budget means that isn’t going to get any better for Labor any time soon.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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