Animal Tracker 2018: Credibility of Sources
For individuals and groups working to change hearts and minds about animal welfare, it’s critical to know how the public perceives different sources of information. Credibility of the source, whether because of role, relationship, or expertise, makes a big difference, whatever the information and evidence. The messenger, not just the message, matters. For over 10 years, animal advocates have relied on the Faunalytics Animal Tracker survey to understand the differences and changes over time in the credibility of sources for information about animal welfare.
In this blog we focus in-depth on the survey’s question about perceived credibility. Previous blogs have covered the methodology and overall results of the 2018 survey and a question asking about opinions toward various social causes and political movements, including animal protection.
Following is the question that we ask every three years, most recently in April 2018:
How much credibility do you give to each of the following sources when it comes to information about animal welfare?
Scale: Significant; Moderate; Very little; None; Don’t know
- Academics and scholars
- Animal protection groups
- Businesses and corporations
- Family and friends
- Farmers and ranchers
- Government (federal or state)
- Local or national news media
- Scientists and researchers
As in previous years’ Animal Tracker results, in 2018 veterinarians ranked as the most credible source of animal welfare information, with the vast majority of people (80%) assigning them “significant” or “moderate” credibility. Also consistent with previous results, a group of four sources were the next most credible sources: family and friends (68%), scientists and researchers (66%), farmers and ranchers (66%), and animal protection groups (64%). The least credible groups were attorneys and businesses/corporations; nearly two-thirds of respondents said these groups have “very little” or “no” credibility when it comes to providing information about animal welfare.
The credibility ratings for all but one of the sources declined from 2015 to 2018, perhaps not surprising given the increasingly volatile media environment in the U.S., with accusations from all sides of “fake news” and assertions by more than a few commentators that we are living in a “post-truth” world. One notable exception to the downward trend is the perceived credibility of scientists and researchers, which remains unchanged and relatively high. Fortunately, there is a good deal of science and research that animal advocates can point to in support of their cause.
In the sections that follow, we explore the results in more depth by looking at demographic differences. We also examine trends over time, comparing our latest results with past years of the Animal Tracker. The complete details for all years and demographic groups will be released along with the last blog in this series. We will also be updating our graphing tool with 2018 data and releasing the full dataset.
Below we focus on just the most recent Animal Tracker results (from April 2018) and differences by gender, age, level of formal education, ethnicity, geographic region, and if people have companion animals in the household.
Gender: More women than men (67% compared to 61%) granted animal protection groups “significant” or “moderate” credibility on animal welfare information. Of all the possible sources of information, animal protection groups’ credibility elicited the second-largest gender gap, behind local/national news media (49% positive from women vs. 40% positive from men). The 5% gender difference related to attorneys’ credibility (26% positive from women vs. 21% positive from men) was similar to that of animal protection groups. The gender differences for all other information sources were less than 4%.
Age: Large age-group differences emerged for several of the information sources listed in the question. The largest gap was seen on the credibility of local/national news media, with 55% of U.S. adults age 60 and older attributing positive credibility vs. 35% of U.S. adults age 18-29. Veterinarians, scientists/researchers, and family/friends had lower but significant age-related gaps. In all three cases, the 45-59 age group attributed the greatest credibility to the sources, with 18-29-year-olds attributing the least. The credibility of animal protection groups varied modestly by age group, with a 7% difference between U.S. adults age 18-44 and those 45 and older (60% vs. 67%, respectively).
Education: Differences in credibility ratings by level of formal education were significant, over 25% in some cases. The largest gaps were related to the perceived credibility of scientists/researchers, academics/scholars, and veterinarians. Respondents with a Bachelor’s degree or more education attributed significantly greater credibility to these sources, especially compared to respondents with less than a high school diploma. Three information sources—local/national news media, federal/state government, and family/friends—elicited a lower gap in credibility (6% to 10%), with more highly educated respondents attributing greater credibility than those with less formal education. Only in the case of attorneys did those with less formal education attribute more credibility than those with more education (by an average of 7% over other groups). Animal protection groups and business/corporations were the least differentiated by formal education levels.
Ethnicity: As a representative survey, the Animal Tracker surveys people to closely mirror the demographic profile of the United States. That means that most respondents are white and that the sample sizes for other ethnic groups are very small, which reduces our ability to identify significant differences. If the attitudes expressed by various ethnic groups in this survey are representative, then large disparities exist in relation to credibility of animal welfare information sources. The information sources with the smallest differences across racial/ethnic groups were attorneys, business/corporations, government, and local/national news media. Those with the biggest differences were family/friends, farmers/ranchers, scientists/researchers, and veterinarians. When each racial/ethnic group’s responses are compared with the average for all respondents, we see the highest discrepancies among Black U.S. adults. For the credibility of veterinarians, family/friends, and scientists/researchers, Black U.S. adults were much less likely to say they have significant or moderate credibility (by 22%, 19%, and 18%, respectively), than all U.S. adults. For the credibility of animal protection groups, ethnic differences were relatively modest. However, those in the “other” ethnic category attributed less positive credibility (by 13-15%) for academics/scholars, animal protection groups, farmers/ranchers, scientists/researchers, and veterinarians.
Region: Regional differences were smaller than other demographic variables on this survey question. In terms of positive credibility attributed to family/friends and scientists/researchers, those from the South expressed less support than other regions (8% lower than the highest region in both cases). Conversely, respondents from the West were more positive about the credibility of academics/scholars, animal protection groups, government, and local/national news media than the other groups (5-9% higher than the lowest region). For farmers/ranchers, those in the South and West were less supportive than those from the Northeast and Midwest by 4-5%.
Companion Animals in Household: The Animal Tracker includes a segment for people who have at least one companion animal (cat, dog, fish, bird, gerbil, reptile, horse, or other) and we compare them with people who do not have any companion animals. People with companion animals attributed more credibility to every source of information about animal welfare compared to people without companion animals. Differences were especially high for family/friends (15% difference), animal protection groups (11% difference), and veterinarians (10% difference). For all other sources of information, the differences ranged from 3% to 8%.
The Animal Tracker attitude questions have been asked four times, most recently in 2018, but also in 2015, 2012, and 2009. Most of the attitudinal questions included in the Animal Tracker show generally consistent results over time. There were no big differences for this question in 2018 and none of the sources of information about animal welfare had an increase in credibility. There were many decreases in credibility, however, with only one source (scientists/researchers) staying the same.
Most of the changes in credibility between 2015 and 2018 were within the survey’s margin of error (+/- 3%). Those differences that were large enough to be outside of the margin of error were declines in the perceived credibility of government (-6%), veterinarians (-5%), animal protection groups (-5%), and family/friends (-4%).
Attorneys: The low credibility for attorneys as sources of information on animal welfare has been consistent since 2009, with only about 20% to 25% of U.S. adults giving attorneys significant or moderate credibility.
Academics and scholars: The long-term trend since 2009 indicates little change in the perceived credibility of academics/scholars. The drop in those saying significant or moderate credibility from 57% in 2015 to 54% in 2018 is within the survey’s margin of error.
Animal protection groups: The drop from 69% in 2015 to 64% significant/moderate credibility in 2018 is modest, but also represents a significant change in the credibility for animal protection groups and may warrant additional research to uncover causes for the decline.
Businesses and corporations: Over the 10 years of the survey, business/corporations have tracked closely with attorneys as entities with the least credibility on animal welfare. The trend has been very consistent since 2009, with only about 20% to 25% of U.S. adults giving businesses/corporations significant or moderate credibility.
Family and friends: 2018 is the first year that the perceived credibility of family/friends about animal welfare issues dropped below 70% (significant/moderate). The drop of 4% since 2015 (to 68%) is just outside the survey’s margin of error and the long-term difference is slightly greater (5%).
Farmers and ranchers: There has been no significant change in the perceived credibility of farmers/ranchers over the course of the survey’s 10 years. Very consistently, two-thirds of U.S. adults say farmers and ranchers have significant or moderate credibility when it comes to animal welfare information.
Government (federal or state): Between 2015 and 2018, the perceived credibility of federal/state government dropped from 43% to 36% (saying significant/moderate credibility). This mirrors a similar dip between 2009 and 2012 (45% to 36%). Of all the sources of information covered by this question, the credibility of government as a source of information for animal welfare information has experienced the most volatility over the 10 years of the survey, perhaps tied to election cycles.
Local or national news media: The credibility of news media has decreased steadily over the 10 years of the survey, from a high of 58% saying significant/moderate credibility in 2009 to the current low of 45% in 2018. This is by far the most significant decrease of all the sources of information over the course of the 10 years and is not surprising, given the general increase in suspicion of the media and fragmentation of media outlets in the U.S. over the same period.
Scientists and researchers: Like farmers/ranchers, scientists/researchers have enjoyed positive credibility in the upper 60% range without significant change over the course of the survey’s 10 years.
Veterinarians: The dip from 2015 to 2018 (from 85% to 80% perceived credibility) is the first significant change for veterinarians over the course of the 10 years of the survey. Even with the modest decrease, veterinarians are still the highest-rated source for animal welfare information on the survey. For all years of the survey, at least four in five adults (80% or more) have said veterinarians have significant or moderate credibility.