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Exclusive poll: Big GOP majority fears bias in search engines

Data: SurveyMonkey online poll conducted Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, 2018 among a total sample of 2,698. Margin of error of ±2.5 percentage points; Poll methodology; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Two-thirds of Republicans believe the results of internet searches are skewed to the left — a shift that's driving significant public distrust in search engines, according to a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.

Why it matters: The survey shows that tech companies will have a hard time convincing the public that their algorithms aren't built to favor any point of view, regardless of the reality. The distrust is driven largely by the right, but a significant minority of independents believe the results are biased toward the left, too.

The poll was conducted before Wednesday's congressional testimony by Facebook and Twitter executives. (Search giant Google declined to send its CEO to Congress.)

Between the lines:

  • Democrats are the only group that strongly believes search results are unbiased.
  • Only about two out of 10 Republicans, and barely more than half of independents, believe the search results aren't biased at all.
  • A small minority — 12% of the public — believes the results are biased toward conservatives.
  • Young adults and older adults are most likely to believe the results are skewed to favor liberals — including 39% of people between 18 and 24 and 40% of those age 55 and older.
  • Slightly more men than women (41% vs. 32%) believe there's a leftward slant.
  • Young adults are also the least likely to believe there's no bias in the search results at all. Only 41% say that.

Other highlights:

  • The public still has a positive overall view of technology: 72% say it has had a positive effect on society. That's pretty close to the results of an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll in February.
  • A slight majority — 51% — says they're worried that the government will not go far enough in regulating the tech companies. That's down slightly from the February survey, mostly because Democrats have become less worried about not going far enough (55% now vs. 64% in February).
  • Democrats are now more worried about going too far — 42% now vs. 33% in February. (Republicans haven't changed much: 48% now vs. 50% in February.)

The bottom line: The public demands for regulation of tech companies has cooled a bit. But the distrust of search engines like Google from the right — fueled in part by President Trump's complaints — deepens the broader doubts that social media portrays information objectively.

Methodology: This Axios/SurveyMonkey online poll was conducted August 30- September 3, 2018 among 2,698 adults in the United States. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is 2.5 percentage points. Respondents for this survey were selected from over 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day.

Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over. Crosstabs available here.