MEDIA
09/12/2014 06:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

More Americans Think Media Underplaying ISIS Threat Than Overplaying It

Pool via Getty Images

Over two-thirds of Americans report they've closely followed news coverage this week about the Islamic State, or ISIS, as the United States escalates its war against the militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they were “very closely” following the news, with 41 percent following it “somewhat closely,” according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted between Sept. 9 and 12.

The percentage of Americans keeping track of news about the Islamic State is higher than the percentages who kept track of previous major news stories, including the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That level of attention helps explain the extent to which public concern has influenced the political debate in Washington.

Other recent surveys have found that most Americans view the Islamic State as a threat, even as the U.S. intelligence community and government agencies have said there is no evidence of an imminent risk to the United States.

The media may have had a hand in this. Some terrorism experts recently suggested to The New York Times that “hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians” have helped create public misperceptions about the severity of the threat.

But over one-third of Americans in the HuffPost/YouGov survey (37 percent) said the media’s coverage of the threat posed by the Islamic State has been about right. Among those who thought the coverage was off, nearly twice as many said that the media were underplaying the threat (23 percent) as said the media were overstating it (12 percent).

The poll found that the more closely Americans followed news coverage, the more they thought the media weren't appreciating the danger posed by the militants. Thirty-nine percent of those very closely following the news said the threat was underplayed, while 16 percent in this group said it was overplayed. Among those somewhat closely following the news, 24 percent said the threat was underplayed and 11 percent said it was overplayed.

These findings can be read in more than one way. Those very closely following the news may have been more likely to hear politicians and pundits talking about the Islamic State in grave terms and thus believe it deserves a stronger response. Or people who were already disposed to think of the Islamic State as a major threat could also be more likely to seek out news coverage of the situation. In any case, it appears that the actual assessments from the intelligence community -- that the Islamic State poses no imminent danger within the United States -- have not been prominently featured in the news coverage.

During the survey period (though after most respondents had completed the survey), President Barack Obama announced plans to escalate the U.S. war against the Islamic State into Syria. According to the poll, 37 percent of Americans “strongly support” expanding airstrikes into Syria, while 29 percent "somewhat support" that action. Among those who said they are following news about the Islamic State very closely, 68 percent said they strongly support airstrikes and another 16 percent somewhat support them.

The big media winners over the past week appear to have been cable news and the Internet, each of which were the main source of Islamic State news for 25 percent of Americans. Seventeen percent said local television was the primary news source, followed by evening broadcast news shows (10 percent), radio (5 percent), newspapers (4 percent) and social media like Facebook and Twitter (3 percent).

Cable news clocked in as the most trusted source at 21 percent, followed by the Internet at 20 percent. For those whose main news source was cable news, 58 percent said they strongly support airstrikes into Syria -- the highest percentage across media platforms.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here.

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