Abstract: Public criticism of professional media is omnipresent in many democratic societies. This debate has often been examined concerning what the audience demands from the media (expectations) or how they evaluate media performance (evaluations). Based on a representative, quota-based online survey of the German population in 2019, this study examines citizens’ expectations, evaluations, and the discrepancies between both, as well as their relationship with media trust, socio-political predispositions—particularly populist attitudes—and individual media use in high-choice media environments. Results show that citizens have high expectations of the media which they mainly do not see fulfilled and that expectation-evaluation discrepancies are related to lower media trust in the case of particularly important and/or most noticeably underperformed media functions. Both expectations and evaluations were associated with populist attitudes, but only in the case of anti-elite attitudes in such a way that increased expectations collide with negative media evaluations. For anti-outgroup attitudes, instead, the analyses show a generally negative assessment of journalistic media, both in terms of expectations and evaluations. Media use does only play a minor role.
Keywords: journalistic quality; media performance; media trust; populist attitudes; quality evaluations; quality expectations