Majority of Americans say Trump is just venting when he calls the press ‘enemies of the people’

President Trump speaks to supporters at a rally in Topeka, Kan., on Saturday.
(Larry W. Smith / EPA-Shutterstock)

A staple of President Trump’s rallies is criticism of the news media, which he has often labeled as “enemies of the people.”

What do the people think?

A slight majority think Trump is basically just blowing off steam. But Americans also think his words can be dangerous.

Asked if Trump’s words were an example of his expressing frustration or whether he was issuing a serious warning when he makes those kinds of remarks, 45% said they believed he was serious compared to 55% who said he was expressing frustration, according to a recent USC-Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.


The public also split closely on whether Trump’s remarks are potentially harmful. A 56% majority called Trump’s language “dangerous,” while 44% called it “harmless.”

People who disapprove of Trump were more likely to see his labeling the press as enemies as an example of frustration, rather than a serious warning. But they were also more likely than supporters to see his words as dangerous.

Overall, about one in four of those surveyed said they viewed Trump’s language as harmless venting. More, about three in 10, said that he was venting, but that his words were still dangerous.

Another one in four said they believed his words were serious and dangerous while a slightly smaller group, about one in five, said that Trump is serious in what he says, but that it’s harmless.

At the same time, the public overwhelmingly rejects the idea that government officials should have the power to limit what the news media publishes or broadcasts.


The poll asked people to choose between two statements: “News organizations should have the freedom to publish or broadcast any stories they choose, except in very limited cases on topics such as national security” or “government officials should have broad authority to limit the information that news organizations publish or broadcast.”

By 85% to 15%, the public said that news organizations should be free to publish. A majority across all major demographic and political groups took that view.

About one in five Trump supporters, however, said they believed that government officials should have the authority to limit what’s published.

Women were more likely than men to support limits on the press, although a large majority of both genders opposed the idea. Similarly, people without college degrees were more likely than those with a college education to support limits.

This USC Dornsife/Times poll, overseen by survey director Jill Darling and co-sponsored by the university’s Center for the Political Future, was conducted online among 5,045 adult Americans.

The poll respondents were drawn from a probability-based panel maintained by USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research for its Understanding America Study. Responses were weighted to accurately reflect known demographics of the U.S. population. The survey was conducted Aug. 22-Sept. 24. The margin of error is 2 percentage points in either direction. A full description of the methodology, poll questions and dataare posted on the USC website.

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