Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

What drives Republicans or Democrats to subscribe to local news

In 2017, a Media Insight Project study used two surveys to evaluate similarities and differences between Republicans and Democrats in their news consumption behavior and their attitudes towards the media. It found that while the two parties differed sharply in their opinions and beliefs about the media, they were strikingly alike in their news behaviors. They were not only equally likely to seek out news actively rather than passively, get news multiple times a day, and get it from social media, but they also subscribed to news sources at similar rates.

This survey allows us to go beyond simple rates of subscribing and dig deeper into the paths Republicans and Democrats take to subscribing to newspapers. What do they find important as they considered subscribing? What specifically triggers them to start paying? How did they use the paper before starting to pay for it, if at all? What do they say are the most important aspects of the paper they pay for?

While this survey uses a broad sample of subscribers from across the country, the partisan differences below may not be completely due to partisanship, as the age, education, income, and geographic makeup of the subscribers interviewed influence the composition of each partisan group.

Among respondents, Democrats and independents are more likely be age 40 or younger than Republicans (9 percent and 8 percent vs. 5 percent), and Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to have a college degree (73 percent vs. 59 percent and 62 percent). About 3 in 4 self-identified Democrat and Republican respondents have household incomes of $50,000 per year or more, compared with 59 percent of those who describe themselves as independent.

Despite these demographic differences, the comparisons will give a general sense as to how these Republican, Democrat, and independent respondents became paying subscribers and what they look for in a newspaper subscription.

In their own words, the most common reasons Democrats and Republicans subscribe are getting local news and enjoying print newspapers, but there are some differences by party identification

Among Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike and in their own words, the most common reasons they give for subscribing are wanting access to local news (about 30 percent of each group) and liking print newspapers or home delivery (about 15 percent of each group). The third most-mentioned reason varies by partisanship—for Democrats, it’s trust and quality; for independents, it’s promotions or discounts; and for Republicans, it’s a topical focus.

Democrats tend to cite reasons having to do with journalism as an institution or coming across a newspaper that’s better than the competition. Democrats are most likely to say they subscribed to support journalism or because of trust in the source or its quality.

And money matters across the partisan spectrum—all partisan groups were at least three times as likely to mention a promotional offer as to mention running into a paywall.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Trust/quality 12% 6% 6%
Promotion or discount 11% 14% 14%
Topical focus 10% 12% 15%
Support journalism 8% 2% 1%
Paywall/access 4% 1% 2%

Data Source: Question: Describe in your own words why you decided to subscribe to [SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

When thinking about what’s important to the decision to subscribe, supporting local journalism and quality are more important to Democrats than others

Subscribers were presented with a list of 12 factors they could consider when subscribing, ranging from practical value and promotions to those dealing with the quality of and support for journalism as a whole. On average, Democrats identified more of these factors as being important to their decision—3.2 reasons, compared with 2.8 for independents and 2.5 for Republicans.

For a majority of all partisan groups, keeping up with news about their local community is cited as an important reason, and noticing a number of interesting and useful articles is in the top three reasons for each. A top reason for Democrats is supporting local journalism, while promotional offers are key factors for independents and Republicans.

For Democrats, keeping up with and supporting local news are key reasons to subscribe. Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to say it was important that they have access to news about their local community, although this is the top factor for all three groups. Democrats are also the most likely to say they wanted to support local journalism.

In addition, Democrats are motivated by quality more often than independents and Republicans. They are more likely to report concerns over the accuracy of free news sources as important and to say they noticed a number of useful or interesting articles.

Though the differences are minor, Republicans and independents are more likely than Democrats to say getting coupons or seeing a promotional offer were important to their decision to subscribe.

Democrats Independents Republicans
A discount or promotional offer 33% 39% 38%
Coupons 17% 24% 22%
Cover a particular topic/issue 31% 26% 26%
Access to news about local community 66% 56% 54%
Concerned about accuracy of free news 36% 29% 25%
Support local journalism 44% 26% 16%
Useful/interesting articles 47% 34% 28%

Data Source: Question: How important was each of these factors as you considered subscribing to [SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

Though partisans’ trigger factors are largely the same, Democrats are more likely to take the plunge to subscribe in order to support journalism

Partisans and non-partisans alike largely subscribe for similar reasons, and are equally likely to cite the most common tipping point when making the final decision to subscribe—seeing a discount, free trial, or promotional offer (44 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of independents, 45 percent of Republicans).

However, Democrats are the most likely to have taken the plunge in order to back a free press. Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to say they were moved by a message about supporting journalism for the good of the community and country or by recent verbal attacks on the press.

Democrats are also more likely than independents or Republicans to have been triggered by a paywall, but less likely to say their breaking point was wanting coupons.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Wanted discounts and coupons to save money 18% 26% 24%
A paywall 20% 11% 13%
Motivated by recent verbal attacks on the press 13% 4% 2%
A message about supporting journalism for the good of the community and country 10% 4% 2%

Data Source: Question: Which, if any, of the following triggered your final decision to subscribe to [SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

Partisans differ in the topics they follow in the news

Hard news about the community and the nation is universally popular among subscribers, regardless of party. Local politics and government is the most common news topic, cited by more than half of Democrats and 4 in 10 Republicans and independents. National news and government also are among the top three most followed topics for Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike.

When it comes to differences between groups, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to follow news about national politics and government, arts and culture, social issues like abortion and race, and the environment and climate change.

In contrast, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to follow sports (collegiate, high school, and professional), business and the economy, news about the neighborhood or suburban town where they live, and crime and public safety.

Independents generally align more with Republicans in terms of the news topics they follow, though they are less likely to use their newspaper for news about sports, both high school/collegiate and professional.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Local politics and government 54% 39% 39%
Collegiate/high school sports 15% 19% 30%
Business and economy 17% 26% 29%
National politics and government 42% 27% 29%
Professional sports 19% 21% 27%
Neighborhood 18% 24% 23%
Crime and public safety 14% 24% 22%
Arts and culture 18% 9% 10%
Social issues 11% 5% 3%
Environment and climate change 10% 3% 2%

Data Source: Question: Here are some common news and information topics. Which of these news topics do you follow most often or closely using [SOURCE]? Please select up to three (3).

Media Insight Project

Democrats cite more reasons as important when it comes to explaining why they use their source of choice

Democrats tend to name more reasons they use their source as being very important than do independents and Republicans. On average, Democrats cite about seven important reasons, while independents and Republicans name five. While qualities like helping to stay informed, reliability, and being willing to admit mistakes are important qualities for subscribers of all political stripes, Democrats are more likely to place greater value on many of these factors.

Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to say it’s very important that their newspaper helps them talk to others about what’s going on in the news and helps them stay informed and be a better citizen, though this is important to majorities of all groups. Democrats are also even more likely than independents or Republicans to say excellent topic coverage is important.

Accuracy and fairness also matter in similar levels across party. Being unbiased and accurate are both important to at least 6 in 10 subscribers regardless of partisanship. However, Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to say it’s important that their newspaper deals fairly with all sides, and helps them get reliable and accurate information.

In terms of journalistic integrity and its political role, Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to say it’s important that their source acts as a check on political leaders and others in power, cares about the people it reports on, and is willing to admit its mistakes.

As for more practical factors, Republicans and independents are more likely than Democrats to say it’s important that their newspaper helps them save money. On the other hand, Democrats are more likely than independents or Republicans to say it’s important that their source is enjoyable or entertaining.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Helps me talk to others about what's going on 50% 33% 31%
Helps me be a better citizen 75% 50% 50%
It's enjoyable or entertaining 45% 37% 37%
Good at covering an issue or topic 62% 43% 41%
Deals fairly with all sides 76% 59% 62%
Helps me get accurate information 87% 69% 68%
Acts as a check on political leaders 77% 49% 46%
Cares about the people it reports on 56% 38% 37%
Willing to admit its mistakes 74% 66% 64%
Helps me save money 26% 33% 31%

Data Source: Question: When it comes to the biggest reasons you use [SOURCE], how important to you is it that it...? Please select up to three (3).

Media Insight Project

More than half of Democrats say feeling good about supporting the news organization is the biggest benefit they get from subscribing

The largest difference among subscribers by partisanship when it comes to the biggest perk of subscribing is feeling good about supporting the news organization. More than half of Democrats, a third of independents, and about a quarter of Republicans say the biggest benefit they get from subscribing is the rewarding value of supporting a news outlet.

Republicans and independents tend to appreciate their subscription more for the savings it yields them. Four in 10 Republicans and independents say their biggest benefit from subscribing is the coupons or discounts, compared with 3 in 10 Democrats.

Partisans are somewhat more likely to value exclusive and unlimited content. Democrats and Republicans are slightly more likely than independents to say the biggest benefit is getting news only available to paying customers. Similarly, Democrats are the most likely, followed by Republicans and independents, to say they like getting an unlimited number of digital stories.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Get news only available to paying customers 29% 24% 30%
Feel good about supporting the news organization 56% 33% 23%
Like getting unlimited digital stories 26% 15% 19%
Like coupons or discounts 29% 39% 39%

Data Source: Question: Now that you subscribe to [SOURCE], which of the following do you consider the biggest benefit of your subscription? Please select up to three (3).

Media Insight Project

Though Republicans see many benefits to subscribing, a majority are at least somewhat skeptical of the reliability of their newspaper’s content. Nearly all Democrats (82 percent) and more than half of independents (54 percent) say news and information from their news source is very or completely reliable, compared with just 43 percent of Republicans.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Completely/Very reliable 82% 54% 43%
Moderately reliable 15% 34% 38%
Not at all/A little reliable 2% 10% 18%

Data Source: Question: How reliable is the news and information you get from [SOURCE]?

Media Insight Project

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

The American Press Institute

Our mission

We help transform news organizations for an audience-centered future.

Our programs for publishers focus on four things:

  • 1. Understand your audience
  • 2. Get your audience to pay
  • 3. Transform your culture
  • 4. Do your best journalism
  • Find out more about API »

API solutions for publishers

What we can do for you

API offers a suite of original tools and services for solving the biggest challenges in news:

  • Decide what beats to cover and how
  • Identify and develop the skills you need
  • Assess and improve your culture
  • Drive more reader revenue
  • Drive loyalty through accountability journalism
  • Make analytics work for you
  • Contact us to find out how »