Dynamics of (dis)trust between the news media and their audience: The case of the April 2019 Israeli exit polls

Tali Aharoni*, Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt, Christian Baden, Maximilian Overbeck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This paper explores the dynamics of (dis)trust among experts, journalists, and audiences through the case study of an inaccurate exit poll aired on a leading Israeli television channel. It combines empirical data from the Israeli April 2019 elections with a conceptual view of exit polls as both sources of information and national rituals to address public discourse on the polls and its underlying suspicions. A multi-method approach yielded a corpus consisting of focus groups with citizens, in-depth semi-structured interviews with journalists, pollsters and experts, and qualitative textual analysis of news reports. Using inductive-qualitative analysis, we identified three types of public narratives, each casting blame for the erroneous exit poll projection on a different type of actor. The statistical and biased-media narratives tally with declining trust in the news media and assume misbehavior by pollsters and news creators respectively. The deception narrative, on the other hand, suggests that right-wing voters systematically sabotaged the exit poll projections. By extending trust beyond journalistic information, this narrative foregrounds the cultural meaning of election night rituals. Taken together, the narratives found in this study delineate (dis)trust as an interplay of active participants in the creation, reception, and interpretation of news. Our findings thus touch upon key attitudes towards both media and democracy and have implications for further studies on collective rituals and information evaluations in an era of eroding trust.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)337-353
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Election coverage
  • exit polls
  • media ritual
  • public discourse
  • trust & distrust


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