Commercial television news remains the most important source of political news for Australians, but the national broadcasters and newspapers are more trusted, polling by Essential Research reveals.

Word of mouth is also an important and highly trusted source of political information for voters, but young voters appear beyond the reach even of social media or online sources when it comes to politics.

From a sample size of just over 2000, Essential found 63% of voters say they get a lot or some of their information about politics and political issues from commercial television news and current affairs, just ahead of newspapers and online news sites (61%). Some 56% of voters get a lot or some political information from ABC and SBS TV news and current affairs, 41% from what they hear from friends, family and work colleagues, then commercial radio and ABC and SBS radio on 36% and 35% respectively. Commercial radio talkback rates below non-news websites on 23%, but is still ahead of blogs and social media, on 20%.

When it comes to trust, however, ABC and SBS TV news rank highest, with 67% of voters saying they have a lot or some trust in the broadcasters, including 20% saying they have a lot of trust in the national broadcasters for political news. The ext most trusted source is word of mouth from friends, family and work colleagues, on 59%, though only 6% say they place a lot of trust in that. Some 57% trust newspapers and online news sites, though only 7% place a lot of trust in them; 56% trust ABC and SBS radio (15% a lot of trust), while 48% trust commercial TV news and current affairs. Social media is the least trusted, on 23%, and commercial radio talkback is trusted by 30%. Some 20% of people say they have no trust at all in commercial radio talkback, compared to 18% for social media.

As an experiment, combining the two outcomes suggests the national broadcasters and newspapers are ahead of commercial television news and current affairs in terms of influence, at least as measured by usage and trust, although that fails to account for the influential impact of images conveyed on television news: election campaigns have long been structured around delivering a brief grab of content for nightly news bulletins that reinforces campaign themes, regardless of the actual content.

The strong performance of word of mouth confirms why some within the ALP have been trying to develop innovative versions of grassroots campaigning tactics from the United States that focus on campaign workers personally engaging with voters rather than simply leafletting and letterboxing for candidates.

The results also suggest young people have persistently lower consumption of political news, particularly from traditional media. Only 40% of people aged 18-24 get a lot or some political news from commercial television, and 51% of people aged 25-34; in comparison, 71% of 45- to 54-year-olds get some or a lot of news from commercial television. Meanwhile, 39% of 18-  to 24-year-olds get some or a lot of political news from ABC/SBS TV, compared with 55% of 35-  to 44-year-olds. Only 23% of those aged 18 to 24 get information from commercial radio, even fewer from ABC radio, and this demographic ignores talkback; 51% of 18-24s get some or a lot of information from newspapers and news websites, but that’s below even retirees (64%). They’re a little more likely to use blogs and social media — 28% — than older age groups (usage decreases with age), and a little more likely to rely on word of mouth. But the highest-ranking scores for young people are usually “Don’t Use”.

There is, however, minimal difference between men and women on consumption: women are a little less likely to use the ABC and SBS for political news and a little more likely to use word of mouth. There are much bigger differences between voters: Greens voters are much less likely to use commercial TV or radio, more likely to use the ABC and more likely to use blogs and social media. Liberal voters use commercial TV and radio and talkback a lot more (31% of Liberal voters get some or a lot of their political news from commercial radio talkback ). Labor voters are generally in between, but almost as averse to talkback as Greens voters. Liberal voters trust the ABC less than other voters and radio talkback more, although even so only 38% of Liberal voters have some or a lot of trust in talkback, compared with 54% for ABC radio news and 42% for ABC talkback; they also trust newspapers/news sites more.

Young people appear to have less trust in — or knowledge of — any media; among 18- to 24-year-olds the most common response for a number of platforms was “Don’t Know”. For that age group, the most trusted medium was the ABC: 60% of Australians aged 18 to 24 had some or a lot of trust in ABC TV and 58% in ABC radio; newspapers scored 56%. And it’s the middle-aged who are most trusting of media; indeed, trust seems to go in a bell curve, with young people and retirees least trusting and the middle-aged least sceptical: 54% of those 45 to 54 trust commercial TV; 48% trust commercial radio news; 36% talkback radio; meanwhile, 60% of 35- to 44-year-olds trust newspapers.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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