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Life in the Time of COVID-19: Trust in Media/News Figures


During a health crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, people seek honest and accurate information about the virus, but it seems as though conflicting information is often reported by members of the media.  This begs the question:  Who should we trust?

IntelliSurvey’s second installment in its “Life in the Time of COVID-19” online survey series, conducted on April 3, 2020 among 1044 adults in the U.S., reveals some disparity in trust between various news media figures.

Online survey participants were shown the names and images of 27 individuals and organizations and asked whether or not they trusted each to provide them with honest and accurate information about COVID-19.  Participants were asked to “swipe” each image to the right to indicate trust and to the left to indicate distrust.  Participants were also given the opportunity to indicate that “I don’t know who this is” and if they selected this response, they were not permitted to indicate their trust. The order in which individuals/organizations were shown to participants was randomized to prevent order bias.

Among the individuals rated were eight news media figures from a variety of networks (listed alphabetically):

  • Tucker Carlson, host of Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News
  • Sean Hannity, Host of Hannity on Fox News
  • Lester Holt, anchor of NBC nightly news
  • Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC
  • David Muir, ABC World News Tonight anchor
  • Norah O’Donnell, CBS Evening News anchor
  • Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press on NBC and Meet the Press Daily on MSNBC
  • Chris Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday

How widely known are different news anchors and hosts?

The following chart shows the percent of survey respondents aware of each of these news media figures (i.e., those for whom respondents did not select “I don’t know who this individual is”).

Awareness ranges from 57% to 71%, with NBC’s Lester Holt receiving the highest level of awareness.  Nearly three quarters (71%) of all participants know who he is. 

The anchors of the other two major networks, David Muir (ABC) and Norah O’Donnell (CBS), are less well-known by survey participants, with 60% and 57% awareness, respectively. 

Two Fox News figures, Sean Hannity (70% awareness) and Chris Wallace (67%), are widely-recognized, with a third, Tucker Carlson, receiving  slightly lower awareness (62%). 

Rachel Maddow is recognized by two-thirds (67%) of participants, while Chuck Todd’s awareness is 58%.

Chart - Awareness of News Media Figures

Lester Holt is trusted by most

Among the 784 survey participants aware of NBC’s Lester Holt, 58%  indicate that they trust him to give them honest and accurate information about
COVID-19.  This is the highest level of trust of any of the tested news media figures and is a statistically significant difference (at a 95% confidence level)  versus all others tested.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace is the other news figure who is trusted by more than half of all who know who he is (51%), while the other two major network anchors, Norah O’Donnell of CBS and David Muir of ABC, are each trusted by just under half of those who know who they are (47%). 

The two tested MSNBC news figures, Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd, achieve lower levels of trust, with 41% and 39%, respectively, of those aware of them indicating trust.

Two Fox news figures, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, receive the lowest levels of trust among survey participants, with fewer than four in ten (37% and 35%, respectively) indicating trust in them to provide honest and accurate information about COVID-19.

Chart - Trust that Individual will Provide Honest & Accurate Information about COVID-19

Trust by Political Affiliation

Not surprisingly, participants’ political party affiliations influence which media figures they trust.  Survey participants were asked with which political party they most identify. There were a total of 334 who self-identify as Republican, 374 as Democrat and 333 as “Others,” which includes Independents, Libertarians, and those with other or no political party affiliation.

Top trusted media figures among Republicans:

  • Sean Hannity, trusted by 60% of those aware
  • Tucker Carlson (58%)
  • Chris Wallace and Lester Holt (48% each)

Top trusted media figures among Democrats:

  • Lester Holt, trusted by 72% of those aware
  • Chris Wallace and Rachel Maddow (61% each)
  • Norah O’Donnell and David Muir (60% each)

Top trusted media figures among Others:

  • Lester Holt, trusted by 52% of those aware
  • Norah O’Donnell (45%)
  • Chris Wallace and David Muir (43% each)

While there are differences in trust by political party affiliation, it is notable that all three groups included both Lester Holt and Chris Wallace among their top trusted sources for honest and accurate information about COVID-19.

Chart - Trust of Media Figures, by Affiliation

Respondents for this survey were collected via Lucid Marketplace.

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