Sharpest divide ever between parties on media criticism

Democrats and Republicans are the most divided they've ever been on whether news organizations' criticism of political leaders keeps them from doing things they shouldn't or keeps them from doing their job, a new Pew Research poll found.

Data: Pew Research Center; Note: From 1985-2013 polls were conducted over the phone. In 2016 and 2017 the polls were conducted online by the American Trends Panel; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Battle lines: Nearly 90 percent of Democrats say news criticism keeps political leaders in check while roughly 40 percent of Republicans feel the same — that's nearly a 50 percent gap. The results are a significant shift from the early months of 2016 during the presidential primary, when Democrats (74%) and Republicans (77%) nearly agreed on the watchdog role the media played.

Why it matters: The findings suggest Americans' view of the media's purpose depends on how it benefits their party. The last time the gap was this wide was in 2005, when Republicans also controlled The White House and both houses in Congress.

What we're watching: Pew notes that this division extends to Americans' behaviors around news. Other recent Pew studies show that attitudes and the understanding of the media have shifted due to the rise of smartphones and social media.