Early Polls of Journalists, 1962-1985

For a 2009 academic paper, “The Political Attitudes of American Journalists: A Survey of Surveys,” Northeastern University professor William G. Mayer tracked down survey research from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, including the first known survey of journalists’ political ideology and party identification.


  • In 1962, communications professor William L. Rivers surveyed 273 Washington correspondents, and found 57 percent described themselves as “liberal,” vs. 28 percent who called themselves “conservatives. Another 16 percent said they were “middle of the road,” or refused to answer.

  • Similarly, Rivers found that 32 percent of journalists identified themselves as Democrats, compared to 10 percent who said they were Republican, with the remainder describing themselves as independent, other, or refusing to answer.

  • In 1971, researchers John Johnstone, Edward Slawski and William Bownam interviewed 1,313 people occupying editorial positions at 208 news organizations, with the results appearing in their 1976 book, The News People: A Sociological Portrait of American Journalists and Their Work.

  • Johnston’s group found twice as many journalists (40%) called themselves “pretty far to the left” or a “little to the left,” compared to the 20 percent who said they were a “little to the right” or “pretty far to the right.”

  • In 1978, The Brookings Institute’s Stephen Hess surveyed 450 correspondents for his book, The Washington Reporters. Hess found 42 percent called themselves liberal, 39 percent middle of the road, and 19 percent conservative.

  • When asked about media bias, 51 percent of those correspondents agreed with the statement “there is a political bias in the Washington news corps,” vs. 49 percent who disagreed. Of those who agreed, 96 percent said it was a pro-liberal bias, compared to just one percent who said the Washington news corps was pro-conservative.

  • In 1985, the Associated Press Managing Editors Association (APME) commissioned a wide-ranging survey of 1,333 journalists from 51 newspapers. They found three times as many journalists (30%) referred to themselves as “liberal,” compared to 10 percent who said they were “conservative.”

Next: Exhibit 1-1: The Media Elite

Media Bias 101 Home