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USC Annenberg Study and Livestream: Polarization of America Will Likely Increase Despite Calls for National Unity

·7 min read

Journalists Forecast a Decline in Political News and an Increase in Fake News, Communicators Predict U.S. Companies Will Face Increasing Demands from Consumers, Employees and Activists

Muck Rack will share the results of two timely surveys on Politics, Polarization and Purpose conducted by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism during a livestream on Friday, Jan. 15, at Noon EST. Muck Rack CEO Greg Gallant will emcee the discussion with Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations, and Carrie Brown, editor of Politico.

This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210114005633/en/

According to USC Annenberg’s online survey of 1,000 U.S. residents, despite President-elect Joe Biden’s commitment to bring people together, 53% of U.S. residents expect polarization of opinion on social issues to stay the same and 31% predict it will increase. Fewer than half (48%) believe the Biden presidency will lead to national unity, while 23% believe it will result in more civil unrest, as witnessed in the recent Capitol riots.

The trend toward further divisiveness is reflected in the personal attitudes of the American public. Only 28% said their willingness to listen to different points of view will increase, while a mere 18% stated their empathy towards people who disagree with them will grow. Just 27% report that, based on this election’s outcome, they are interested in learning more about other ethnic groups. A disappointing 72% of these Americans predict racism in the U.S. will remain the same or increase.

In the separate survey of over 1,500 journalists and PR professionals — conducted in conjunction with Muck Rack — more than one-third of journalists forecast that the amount of news coverage devoted to politics will decline after the inauguration, along with the average American’s consumption of news. In a more troubling trend, more than three-fourths predict the spread of fake news and the proliferation of conspiracy theories will stay the same or increase during the Biden administration. Forty-three percent of journalists forecast growth in the use of social media for political purposes, and they also forecast more government regulation of social media platforms. While only about one-fourth of the journalists surveyed believe that the credibility of the media and balanced reporting will increase as an outcome of the election, a whopping 78% report that the credibility of the White House Press Corps will improve.

Corporate communicators, who are responsible for managing the reputations of their companies and clients, predict that consumers, employees and activists will expect more action from U.S. corporations on the most polarizing societal issues, like climate change, racial justice and affordable healthcare — topics that many organizations say they are not planning to publicly address. Sixty percent also believe that their consumers’ purchase decisions will be increasingly based on their perception of the company’s values and practices as well as the character of their CEO. In response to these heightened expectations, the majority PR executives say they plan to develop more purpose-driven communication campaigns, hire more diverse employees and conduct additional diversity, equity and inclusion training. The percentage of those who plan to increase their partnerships with activist groups have doubled since last year to 29%.

Almost half of the journalists and PR executives agreed that polarization will increase under the new administration, and the majority predict that the level of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats will stay the same or decrease in the future. On the positive side, both groups believe the change in Presidential leadership is a "true turning point" that will have a positive impact on the U.S. economy, the stock market and the reputation of the United States overseas.

For many citizens, politics trump truth, as the 2020 presidential election continues to be a divisive issue. Among the general public, 20% found the results of the election not credible, but only 8% stated their patriotism will lessen as a result of the election. Thirty-seven percent of conservatives report their trust in government has decreased, while 42% of liberals feel the opposite. Similarly, 35% of those on the left have gained faith in the democratic process, while 30% of those on the right have lost faith in it.

And no one appears to be giving in or giving up. Nearly nine out of ten individuals, regardless of their political leanings, say their commitment to social change will stay the same or increase, along with their engagement in the political process. Almost half of the corporate communicators plan to spend more time communicating their company’s values, and one-third will raise their public profile on social issues.

In spite of their profound differences, 63% percent of Americans surveyed say they have a positive outlook on the next four years. Women are more energized about the future than men, and older Americans are more relieved than younger ones. Not surprisingly, those on the political left (78%) and in the center (63%) feel significantly more hopeful about the future than those on the right (41%). Thirty-seven percent of liberals said their desire to move to another country has decreased, while 21% of conservatives are thinking more about packing their bags.

"The recent presidential election was billed as an historic game-changer for our nation, but our research shows that the majority of voters plan to double down on the same attitudes and opinions they held before," said Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations. "The current extreme level of polarization is a critical problem for our nation that government, business and media must work together to solve. Healing the deep divisions that exist in society today requires a collaborative approach to communication that is consistent, inclusive and honest. The fact that Americans remain hopeful is a foundation for positive change."

The USC Center for PR reviewed the data that was collected through two online surveys fielded by the organization for its annual Global Communication Report, due this spring. The first survey encompasses 940 responses from communication professionals and 519 responses from journalists, was distributed through email lists, social media channels and by Muck Rack, and was live between November 30, 2020 and January 6, 2021. The second survey of 833 U.S. residents was conducted for USC Annenberg by Qualtrics from December 1-4, 2020. All responses reflect opinions based on Joe Biden taking office on January 20.

Livestream information:

Save your seat for Muck Rack Live: Friday, January 15th at Noon EST / 9 a.m. PST — visit info.muckrack.com/usc-purpose-politics.

About the USC Center for Public Relations

Based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the USC Center for Public Relations (CPR) connects corporations, agencies, academics and students to define the future of our industry and to develop those who will shape it. Signature initiatives include the Global Communication Report, USC Annenberg’s Kenneth Owler Smith Symposium, and the Relevance Report. The Center’s podcast series, #PRFuture, features interviews with professionals and advocates who are changing how the industry communicates. Follow CPR at @Center4PR and #PRFuture.

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California is an international leader in education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. With an enrollment of more than 2,200 students, USC Annenberg offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs that prepare the most promising minds to inquire, innovate and lead at the global crossroads of media, technology and culture.

About Muck Rack

Muck Rack’s Public Relations Management (PRM) platform enables PR teams to work together to find the right journalists for their stories, send customized pitches, build meaningful relationships with the media, monitor news and quantify their impact. Thousands of organizations, including Taco Bell, Pfizer, Golin, International Committee of the Red Cross, Knight Foundation, and Penguin Random House, use Muck Rack to take their communications to the next level.

Muck Rack is also the solution of choice for journalists, who use Muck Rack’s free, automatically updated portfolios to showcase their work and to provide information about what stories they’re looking for.

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210114005633/en/


Media Contacts:

Ron Antonette, Chief Program Officer
USC Center for Public Relations

Emma Haddad, Public Relations Manager,
Muck Rack
emma@muckrack.com, (212) 500-1883