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Partisanship and the media: How personal politics affect where people go, what they trust, and whether they pay

This research was conducted by the Media Insight Project — an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

New research shows that although Americans are in many ways divided in their attitudes toward the media, Republicans and Democrats are in many ways strikingly alike in their behavior toward the news.

They are equally likely to pay for news, to get news from social media, to seek it out actively rather than passively, and to get news multiple times a day, according to two recent studies by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Republicans and Democrats are also about equally likely to cite a local news source when asked about the news media they use most often and are equally likely to follow news about their towns and neighborhoods.

In general, it is independents who stand out from partisans of either stripe, particularly for being less likely to follow news closely or engage in other ways with the news.

But putting behavior aside, there are striking and potentially challenging differences among people of different party identifications when it comes to attitudes toward the news. There are also differences in the specific sources Democrats versus Republicans rely on for their information once you move beyond local news.

In general, Republicans and independents are less satisfied than Democrats—even with the news sources for which they pay and that they use most often.

Democrats, for instance, are more likely than Republicans or independents to say both the sources they use for free and the sources they pay for are reliable. Democrats are also more likely than Republicans or independents to say their paid source is a good value.

These partisan differences also exist among just newspaper subscribers. Democrats who subscribe to newspapers are more likely than Republican subscribers to say their newspaper is reliable and to believe it is a good value.

Democrats and Republicans follow news in similar ways

Democrats Independents Republicans
Get news multiple times a day 72% 61% 71%
Actively seek out news 68% 57% 65%
Get news on social media 75% 74% 75%
Pay for news 58% 48% 56%
Regularly use a local news source 25% 20% 21%

Media Insight Project

However, partisans hold different attitudes about the media and follow different news outlets

Democrats Independents Republicans
Get news from Fox News 7% 16% 40%
Get news from CNN 30% 20% 18%
Media keeps them very well informed on important issues 38% 14% 20%
News from media is very accurate 31% 9% 8%
News organizations prevent political leaders from doing their job 17% 31% 59%
Consider source they pay for as very or extremely reliable 73% 56% 53%

Media Insight Project

This research comes from two recent Media Insight Project surveys. The first, a study about subscribing to news, interviewed 2,199 American adults from February 16 through March 20, 2017. The second is a study of people’s trust in news from the media in general versus their trust in the news they use most often, which is based on interviews with 2,036 American adults from March 8 through March 27, 2017. This latter study employed an experiment where half of the respondents were asked questions about “the news media” generally, while the other half were asked the same questions about “the news media you use most often.” Both surveys used AmeriSpeak®, NORC’s probability-based panel.

Among the findings from the studies:

  • Democrats are more likely than Republicans and independents to trust information from the media a lot (30 percent, 8 percent, and 12 percent).
  • Among those who pay for news, 73 percent of Democrats say their paid source is very or extremely reliable versus 56 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans.
  • There are few differences when it comes to technology use among Democrats, Republicans, and independents. They are about equally likely to get news from cell phones (86 percent, 84 percent, and 85 percent) and computers (66 percent, 65 percent, and 63 percent), while independents are a little less likely to get news from televisions (84 percent, 85 percent, and 78 percent).
  • Democrats and Republicans follow different news topics at strikingly similar rates. They are equally likely to follow news about national politics (61 percent vs. 64 percent), local politics (15 percent vs. 13 percent), and their town or neighborhood (16 percent vs. 19 percent).
  • Independents are less likely than Democrats and Republicans to watch, read, hear, or see news at least several times a day (61 percent vs. 72 percent and 71 percent).
  • Democrats who pay for news are more likely than Republicans who pay to say the source they subscribe to is a very good value (45 percent vs. 30 percent).

The numbers suggest that Republicans and independents are engaging with the news and paying for it much like Democrats, but at the same time they are less satisfied by the news media, even the media they rely on most.

These differences in attitudes are significant even when controlling for other demographic and social factors like age, race, gender, income, and education.

The results also highlight challenges facing the news industry as it tries to build trust and reader revenue with more conservative audiences. For example, only about 4 in 10 Republicans and independents believe the news media they use often are willing to admit their mistakes. About 2 in 10 Republicans and independents mention lack of trust as one of the reasons they do not pay for news.

Similarly, Republicans and independents are less likely to say they would start to pay for a source they rely on now but get for free. All of these seem like potential obstacles for publishers who increasingly need to gain subscribers of all political affiliations to subsidize journalism.

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