Political Polarization–How The Left and Right Follow Different Sources For News

The Pew Research Center has released a study on Political Polarization and Media Habits. Most of their findings, summarized below, are as would be predicted:

Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
  • Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:

  • Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.
  • Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.
  • Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

It certainly comes as no surprise that conservatives are likely to follow Fox, which essentially means they are receiving the talking points of the Republican Party, with little regard for facts. While only 47 percent specifically cite Fox, I often find that conservatives are reciting the exact same talking points even if they deny watching Fox. Most likely they are following other conservative media which repeats the exact same message.

It also is no surprise that liberals are more interested in finding objective information and turn to a variety of sources such as NPR and The New York Times. Conservatives distrust media which doesn’t echo their viewpoints (even though, as Stephen Colbert has explained, “reality has a well-known liberal bias”). It is also not surprising that, while conservatives follow outlets with more overt political propaganda, liberals do not show as high an interest in MSNBC, and paid even less attention to Air America before it went out of business. This is not to say they are a mirror of Fox. MSNBC is far more factual when presenting liberal views. The point is that liberals are much more likley to seek an objective news source as opposed to listening to opinion.

When media outlets are examined by the ideology of viewers and readers, MSNBC’s audience is barely more liberal than the audience for CNN and the broadcast networks. Conservative outlets such as Politico and The Economist have a more liberal following than MSNBC. This might be because, while we generally think of MSNBC’s liberal evening shows, the network carries more objective news during the day. In the morning it runs a show hosted by conservative Joe Scarborough and, until he moved to Meet The Press, Scarborough was followed by another conservative, Chuck Todd. MSNBC’s overall audience is presumably different from their evening audience.

Buzzfeed is the least trusted source, but I suspect that this is because of not being well-known, or perhaps not being taken as seriously, as opposed to an ideological divide. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck follow as the least trusted, and Ed Schultz’s show is the least trusted liberal program.

As the Republican Party is now an ideological conservative party, it is also expected that conservatives are more likely than liberals to follow a political party. The authoritarian mind set which is common on the right might also make them more likely to follow a party, although conservatives have never been shy about complaining when they think the GOP is not conservative enough. Lacking a consistent liberal party in this country, it is expected that liberals are more likely to follow issues as opposed to the Democratic Party.

Initially I was surprised to see that liberals are more likely to defriend based upon ideology, but it makes sense as I think about my own experiences. I have some conservative Facebook friends who I have no reason to consider defriending, but have defriended other conservatives (along with some on the left). While I have certainly run into some on the left who are every bit as obnoxious as those on the right, ideologues on the right are often more likely to attempt to spread their views with a religious fervor. Arguments coming from the right are less likely to rely on facts or logical arguments, and much more likely to resort to insults.

This difference extends to the real world. While I have never ended a true friendship over politics, there are neighbors who I could never be friends with due to politics. I certainly have no use personally for those neighbors who have told my wife that she would go to Hell for having a Kerry sign in our front yard, or who have harassed my daughter in parking lots due to the Darwin Fish sticker on her car. While the experience of others might differ, I don’t see this type of fanaticism from liberals.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    Raymond Smith says:

    I find it very interesting that the real core of this problem is not addressed in the MSM at all. That core is that any type of media that claims to be NEWS related should only be allowed to publish actual news. No opinions or propaganda allowed. This would do wonders for stopping what is going on in America today.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    It would be great if we only had true news coming from supposed news outlets but I don’t see how we can make such a change. Who is to say what is allowed? We certainly can’t have government censors determining if whether Fox (or MSNBC) can put out what they put out.

    In the case of MSNBC,hopefully everyone viewing realizes that their evening shows have a large opinion component. Fox has both outright opinion shows and has shows billed as news which actually include a lot of opinion/propaganda.

  3. 3
    David Duff says:

    “more interested in finding objective information and turn to a variety of sources such as NPR and The New York Times.”

    The NYT?! Oh, my giddy aunt, stop it, my sides are splitting! Your mostly liberal Left media are a disgrace to your country and a danger to your democracy.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Perfect example of how conservatives have been brainwashed to distrust truthful information and believe the propaganda from sources like Fox.

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