Who do we trust? An insight into how different Britons trust the news

  • Insight
  • 4 July 2023

by Luke Tryl

Our latest polling shows that trust in UK news sources is more complicated than a simple left-right division. Instead, each of the seven segments has unique opinions when it comes to which news sources they trust.

In new research, More in Common explored levels of trust in our news media. We asked the public to rate their level of trust in eleven different news sources, drawn from traditional and social media.

The results are broken down through the lens of the British Seven segments -  identified on the basis of their psychology and core beliefs. By focusing on core beliefs, we can better understand not just what people think but why they think it -  the hidden architecture that animates their worldview. Trust in news sources is no exception.

1. Only two of the news sources we tested have net positive trust scores

The BBC and ITV News are the only two news sources that have net positive trust with the public. The BBC is the most trusted news source for every segment, apart from Loyal Nationals who narrowly trust ITV News more. The BBC also enjoys positive net trust from every segment apart from the Disengaged Battlers. The general picture, however, is one of low citizen trust across news sources.

2. Traditional media is generally trusted more than social media

With just one exception, all of the traditional media sources tested, including some of the more polarising outlets, are more trusted than social media platforms as sources of news. TikTok is the least trusted of all of the media sources, followed by Facebook and Twitter. YouTube performs somewhat better and is more trusted than The Sun newspaper; however, it still registers a low net-trust score of -43.

3. GB News has the most polarised levels of trust 

GB News exhibits the highest range in levels of trust. Loyal Nationals are the most likely to trust GB News. This group who are socially conservative, feel left behind and carry a deep sense of frustration at having their views and values disrespected by educated elites in places like London. That maps the group that GB News identified on their launch as not being served by the existing media market.  Progressive Activists on the other hand are particularly motivated by their left wing identity, particularly on cultural issues. This motivates an aversion to GB News.

4. Despite their similar ideological outlook, Civic Pragmatists and Progressive Activists diverge significantly in media trust 

Both Civic Pragmatists and Progressive Activists lean left politically. However, their levels of trust in individual news outlets varies considerably. Civic Pragmatists are far more likely to trust ‘establishment’ outlets with a 48 point net trust in the BBC and high trust in the Guardian and Times. However they have among the lowest trust in social media platforms as a source of news. This maps their psychology as a group who favour consensus, institutions and compromise and are particularly averse to polarisation. Progressive Activists, on the other hand, have a pattern of trust that aligns much more closely with their left-wing partisan lean - they have the highest trust in the Guardian and lowest trust in GB News, the Daily Mail and the Sun. 

Established Liberals have the highest average trust 

Overall, Established Liberals are the most likely to have trust in the different media outlets we tested. This reflects their sense of higher societal trust, optimism and sense that their views are well represented in politics and the media. There is no clear left/right lean in their levels of trust - being only slightly more likely to trust the Times than the Guardian, and to trust establishment outlets more than tabloids. However, they also have the highest levels of trust in social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. 

6. The Disengaged segments diverge on social media

On average, Disengaged Battlers are the most distrustful of conventional news sources. This reflects both their social disconnection (driven by economic precarity) and their lack of trust in what they see as a rigged system. They are joined by Disengaged Traditionalists who also have low trust in traditional news sources. However, there are differences between the two groups’ trust in social media.  Disengaged Traditionalists are the group who have the most trust in YouTube. As a group who are highly individualistic and distrustful of the establishment they prefer the self-directed nature of YouTube. In focus group conversations, Disengaged Traditionalists explain that platforms like Youtube appeal to their sceptical sentiment as they believe it allows them to seek out the news that interests them without an establishment filter. 

7. Socially conservative segments have different preferences.

The three socially conservative segments do not exhibit identical patterns of trust. Loyal Nationals have the highest levels of trust in the ‘traditional right-wing press’ such as the Mail and the Sun - reflecting their group-based institutional loyalty -  but they are in the middle of the pack when it comes to trust in more individualised news on social media. Disengaged Traditionalists have close to the highest trust in social media, but their trust in the right-wing press is only slightly above average. Backbone Conservatives join Civic Pragmatists in having the lowest levels of trust in Social Media. They also have above-average trust in the right-wing press and the Times, reflecting their pro-establishment and occasionally nostalgic outlook.

8. Long-form video content is preferred to the written press. 

This is not only evident in the favorability of the BBC and ITV, relative to other sources of news but also the fact that YouTube is considered more trustworthy than TikTok, Facebook and Twitter. This trust in long-form content is driven by a sense that it is less susceptible to political bias than short-form/written press which is seen as more subjective. The public thinks that they can make up their own minds about what they see on TV in an unfiltered way.

9. The segment lens paints a more nuanced picture than 2019 vote

Voters for both parties trust the BBC and ITV News more than other sources of media. Conservatives have positive net trust in the Times, but negative net trust in the Guardian. The picture is reversed for Labour 2019 voters. All other outlets have negative net trust with voters from both parties. Labour voters are more likely to trust social media outlets and Conservative voters, unsurprisingly are more likely to trust the right leaning press. However, it is worth noting that Labour voters trust the Daily Mail more than Twitter or Facebook, and Conservative voters have equal levels of trust in the Guardian and the Daily Mail. This suggests media trust polarises on political lines less starkly than is often assumed.