Older Australians emerge as the most politically informed and most sceptical of media users, according to Essential Research’s polling of attitudes toward political coverage.

Interest in politics almost perfectly matches age, according to Essential’s data, with 18-24s and 25-34s having the lowest interest, before it rises with age so that 18% of over 65s follow politics “closely” and 59% “follow it enough to know what’s happening”. A little over 30% of 18-24-year-olds only pay attention when there’s an election, or have no interest whatsoever.

There’s also a big gender divide when it comes to interest in politics: men are much more likely to either follow politics closely, or enough to know what’s happening, than women, at 63-48%. Women (19%) are more than twice as likely as men (8%) to say they have no interest in politics.

Predictably, younger voters were most likely to rely more on online news services than traditional media. Half of 18-24-year-olds and 55% of 25-34-year-olds relied on online sources over broadcast and print media for political coverage, and that declined with age. Men were also much greater internet uses for political news than women. But income appeared to make no difference: voters in lower pay brackets (44%) were as likely as those on middle incomes (43%) to rely on the internet.

Older people also emerge as the most sceptical media consumers, trusting all forms of media less — often significantly — than other age groups. Even the most trusted media outlet, ABC TV, scores lower with older voters on “a lot of trust” than for younger voters, and “no trust at all” scores much higher among older voters. Even commercial radio, a medium traditionally associated with over-65s, scores lowest among them on “a lot of trust” or “some trust”.

And the medium they still use significantly more than younger voters, newspapers, scores poorly with its most loyal consumers — only 44% of older voters have some or a lot of trust in newspapers, compared to over half for all other demographics. Older people are even more likely than everyone else to feel the media fails to report in a balanced manner — 79% of older voters disagree, or disagree strongly, with “the media usually reports all sides of the story”.

The strongest response from voters obtained by Essential was on the issue of the media’s focus on personalities rather than policies. Around 70% of all voters agreed the media focused too much on the former and not enough on the latter, but older voters were particularly vehement on the issue — 90% of over-65s agree or strongly agree.

And among the big states, it is Queenslanders who stand out as the most sceptical of the media, consistently rating lower, and often much lower, on trust scores than NSW or Victoria. For example, only 42% of Queenslanders have any trust in newspapers, compared to 57% and 59% in NSW and Victoria

When it comes to bias, it is indeed in the eye of the beholder: Labor voters were nearly twice as likely to believe the media was biased in favour of the Liberals as all voters, and Liberal voters likewise about Labor bias, but men are also more likely than women to see bias, possibly reflecting their higher level of interest.

Peter Fray

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