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Partisanship and news behavior

Democrats and Republicans interact with news in similar ways, while independents are less newsy

At a time when there seems a growing ideological divide in the news sources people turn to and in politics generally, is this divide impacting how people use news and who pays for news?

Overall, there aren’t stark differences between people who identify themselves as Democrats versus Republicans in their basic approach to or appetite for news. The bigger differences come between people who identify with one of the two major political parties and those who consider themselves independents or nonpartisans.

For example, Democrats and Republicans keep up with news more often than independents; 72 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans saying they watch, read, hear, or see news at least several times a day. By comparison, 61 percent of independents say the same.

 In all, 68 percent of Democrats describe themselves as active news seekers, and 65 percent of Republicans do as well.

The research also asks people whether on balance they are more inclined to actively seek out news or whether they are more inclined to bump into it—in effect, to let it find them. Here again, Democrats and Republicans are similar. In all, 68 percent of Democrats describe themselves as active news seekers, and 65 percent of Republicans do as well. Independents are somewhat less likely to call themselves active news seekers, 57 percent, but still a majority.

Getting news on social media, on the other hand, has become ubiquitous for all groups. Fully three-quarters of people across the political spectrum now say they get news from social media, including 75 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Republicans, and 74 percent of independents.

Yet, Democrats and Republicans are more likely than independents to pay for news. Forty-eight percent of independents either pay for a newspaper, magazine, or news site, or donate to public television, public radio, or nonprofit journalism compared to 56 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats.

Independents are also less likely than Democrats and Republicans to keep up with news about national politics and government. Yet, there are no partisan differences in regards to following news about either people’s towns and neighborhoods or local politics and government.

Democrats Independents Republicans
National politics or government 61% 50% 64%
Local politics or government 15% 12% 13%
Town or neighborhood 16% 17% 19%

Data Source: Question: Here are some common news and information topics. Which of these news topics do you follow most often or closely? Select up to three of the following.
Source: Pay for News – Media Insight Project conducted February 16-March 20, 2017, with 2,199 adults nationwide.

Media Insight Project

In addition, adults of all political affiliations are equally likely to cite a local news source when asked about the news media they use most often (25 percent of Democrats, 21 percent of Republicans, and 20 percent of independents).

There are few partisan differences in why they follow news, how they get it, and the topics followed

Democrats and Republicans show many similarities in the types of media they use, the reasons they follow news, and the topics they follow, but there are still a few partisan differences in news behavior.

Cable news is the most popular source of news for all adults, while broadcast TV is the second-most cited source for news, the study finds. At the same time, Republicans are more likely to say they watch Fox News (CNN is the second-most cited source). Democrats are more likely to say they use CNN and The New York Times.

There is also little difference by party in the various platforms people use to follow news. Cell phones and televisions are the most popular platforms for Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Likewise, the use of tablets, desktop or laptop computers, radio, or e-readers to get news is similar across the partisan groups. There are no significant differences in the platforms Democrats and Republicans use, but Democrats are more likely than independents to say they get news from paper versions of newspapers (47 percent vs. 37 percent).

Democrats Independents Republicans
Cell phones 86% 85% 84%
Television 84% 78% 85%
Social media 75% 74% 75%
Desktop or laptop computer 66% 63% 65%
Tablet 66% 62% 62%
Radio 57% 59% 65%
Paper newspaper 47% 37% 43%
E-reader 10% 8% 6%

Data Source: Questions: Here are some different devices or technology that you might or might not use to get news and information. Did you use each device or technology to get news and information in the last week, or did you not? These days many people get their news and information from social media. Do you ever get any news from [ITEM]? For each of the following types of media, please indicate whether you have used it for free in the last year, or not. Social media sites.
Source: Pay for News – Media Insight Project conducted February 16-March 20, 2017, with 2,199 adults nationwide.

Media Insight Project

The topics of news that different partisans follow largely look similar as well, with only slight differences. More Republicans say they follow traffic and weather, while Democrats are more likely to follow science and technology and social issues such as abortion or gay rights.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Traffic and weather 51% 54% 64%
Science and technology 14% 16% 9%
Social issues 11% 6% 5%

Data Source: Question: Here are some common news and information topics. Which of these news topics do you follow most often or closely? Select up to three of the following.
Source: Pay for News – Media Insight Project conducted February 16-March 20, 2017, with 2,199 adults nationwide.

Media Insight Project

A few notable partisan differences emerge in the specific types of media Americans pay for. Democrats and Republicans are more likely than independents to pay for a newspaper (33 percent and 33 percent, respectively, vs. 23 percent.) Likewise, 34 percent of Democrats pay for a magazine compared with 26 percent of independents. Lastly, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to donate to public television, public radio, or other nonprofit journalism (20 percent vs. 14 percent).

People of different political parties also follow news for slightly different reasons. Democrats rate several reasons for getting the news more strongly than Republicans, and often both Democrats and Republicans tend to cite several reasons for getting the news more often than independents. For instance, Democrats, compared to Republicans and independents, are more likely to keep up with the news because it helps them talk about current events. Likewise, both Democrats and Republicans, compared to independents, more frequently report that they follow news because it is very good at covering an issue of interest.

Democrats Independents Republicans
Makes them better informed citizens 62% 48% 55%
Covers issues of interest well 61% 44% 55
Helps them decide where they stand 46% 33% 39
Helps talk to people about current events 41% 32% 32
It's enjoyable or entertaining 32% 23% 30
It shares my point of view 25% 16% 24

Data Source: Question: People use news for many reasons. When it comes to the biggest reasons you use news, how important to you is it that it…?
Source: Pay for News – Media Insight Project conducted February 16-March 20, 2017, with 2,199 adults nationwide.

Media Insight Project

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