Throughout his campaign and early presidency, Donald Trump has argued that the First Amendment gives journalists “too much protection,” most reporters are “scum,” and the mainstream news media is the “enemy of the American people.”
A sizable chunk of said people have taken these words to heart: A new YouGov/Economist poll finds that 55 percent of Republicans believe “the courts” should be allowed to “fine news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate” — while 45 percent say that the judiciary should have the power to “shut down” biased media organizations. Only 12 percent of GOP voters oppose the first proposition, and just 20 percent object to the second.
Among the broader public, 34 percent support courts’ fining news outlets for biased or inaccurate reports, while (only?) 28 percent think judges should be able to shut down nonobjective outlets.
It’s unclear where, precisely, a majority of GOP voters would like courts to draw the line separating legitimate reporting from illegal bias. But a new Politico/Morning Consult survey suggests that for many Republicans, the boundary between fact and fiction lies wherever president Trump says it does: 49 percent of Trump voters told those pollsters that the president won the popular vote last November, while just 40 percent said Hillary Clinton did.
This data certainly suggests that Trump is eroding conservatives’ support for the First Amendment — even as some of his most fervent supporters cast themselves as champions of “free speech.” But it’s possible that the data also reflects a contraction in the number of Americans willing to identify as Republicans. A recent working paper from political scientists at Emory University suggests that the stability of Trump’s approval rating with Republicans — and the voting bloc’s strong support for his most authoritarian inclinations — may be, in part, the product of Trump’s Republican detractors choosing to cut ties with their old party. According to Gallup, GOP identification has fallen four points since the 2016 election.