October 21, 2014

5 key takeaways on politics, media and polarization

Evidence of political polarization can be found in many aspects of American life. It’s not just about the public’s views on issues, but the way they use media (including social media) and talk about politics with other people, according to a new Pew Research Center data analysis drawn from a representative sample of online adults. While the most consistent liberals and conservatives both tend to drive broader political discussion, they do so with news and analyses drawn from very different segments of the media landscape.

Here are five key takeaways on polarization, media use and political conversation:

News Trustworthyiness1Consistent liberals trust more news sources than consistent conservatives. Those with across-the-board liberal values have, on average, heard of more sources than those in any other ideological group, and trust about twice as many as they distrust (10.4 vs. 4.8). In contrast, consistent conservatives distrust more sources than they trust (8.8. vs. 5.6).

2Consistent conservatives and consistent liberals talk more about politics and enjoy doing so more than those who are less ideologically consistent. About two-thirds (68%) of consistent conservatives and 57% of consistent liberals say they talk about politics at least a few times a week, compared with 42% of all respondents.

3Consistent conservatives cluster around a single news source: 47% cite Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics, with no other source even close. Consistent liberals list a wider range of news outlets as main sources — no outlet is named by more than 15%. Among the top sources for consistent liberals: CNN (named by 15%), NPR (13%), MSNBC (12%) and The New York Times (10%).

conservatives get news from fox news, liberals get news from many sources

4While it is a dominant source for conservatives, Fox News draws a significant portion of its audience from across the ideological spectrum. Though 46% of its audience is right-of-center (compared with 26% of all respondents), 37% of its audience comes from people with about an equal mix of liberal and conservative views, and 18% comes from those to the left of center. MSNBC, which many view as a liberal alternative to Fox, draws 33% of its audience from those with mixed political views, while 26% are mostly or consistently liberal and 18% are conservative. See our full list and interactive on news audience profiles.

Liberals, conservatives pay attention to Facebook political posts5Consistent liberals and conservatives who use Facebook are more highly engaged with political news than less ideologically consistent users. Two-thirds of consistent conservatives who see political posts on Facebook pay “a lot” or “some” attention to those posts. Similarly, six-in-ten consistent liberals who see political posts on Facebook pay “a lot” or “some” attention.


Topics: News Sources, Social Media, Political Polarization

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. J L Hayes1 year ago

    Appears that the diverse liberal news sources are mostly liberal.
    I am conservative with following news sources: CSPAN; BBC; Fox, CNN, NPR

    In general the media is liberal based and supports the Progressive Secular Humanist positions. That is why I don’t trust most news sources.

  2. Robbie Robertson3 years ago

    And this is exactly why we have the gridlock that we do; “Mom, Sally called me a name.”
    “Did not.” “Did too.” “Well you called me one first.” “Did not.” “Did too.”
    As a committed apolitical Independent I find the childish behavior of both major parties and their followers to be obscene. Grow up, fer cryin’ out loud. The greatness of this country was built on the ability of folks with differing ideas on how to solve problems to come together and compromise for the common good. Try to act like adults and talk to each other with a sincere desire to see the other fellow’s point of view. Maybe we’ll get beyond, “Mom,…”

  3. Jon Stiffler3 years ago

    HMM, well the easy answer is you don’t know enough liberals, if the ones you know don’t like political discussions. How about this topic, on Chris Christie’s statements from today. My “liberal” frame is that Christie is admitting that voter disenfranchisement is the aim of winning Gubernatorial elections, as far as Republicans on the national level are concerned. I grant, this has obviously been an aim, and the Repubublicans have been very successful. So, what do you have to say about Christie’s comments? Please don’t say that voter fraud is the basic problem, as a simple news search will show you that’s not true, as there is no voter fraud to the level of being able to call it a real issue. So? newrepublic.com/article/119948/c…

  4. Warren Conklin3 years ago

    I suspect that the 88/8 conservative/liberal breakdown re: Fox News is based primarily on their nighttime opinion shows (O’Reilly, Kelly, Hannity, etc.) rather than the news that is presented between 9:oo a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.
    When you’re asking these questions, do you ever ask whether the responder has ever seen the programs they’re talking about.
    For example, I think a lot of people who “hate” O’Reilly have never actually watched his show.
    A lot of these surveys would be more helpful if qualifying questions were asked of the responders and that information shared.

  5. William Chastain3 years ago

    Interesting that Consistent Liberals are listed as willing to openly talk about politics. I know very few Liberals who welcome any kind of political or ideological debate with Conservatives. Liberals hold onto their beliefs with an unreasoned fervor driven more by passion than by reason – difficult to debate emotional arguments.

    1. Ken Price3 years ago

      That’s exactly the way I feel about conservatives.

      1. Mary Lucks3 years ago

        Just a brief defense of conservatives: although study after study shows conservatives do more volunteer work, contribute more to charity, they are portrayed both on page and screen as money grasping, narrow, cold-hearted. If you are religious, you are portrayed as a science-denying, unlettered fanatic. The overwhelming majority of universities, media outlets lean left (I can’t say liberal because classic liberalism is not what the Dems embrace). We conservatives feel assaulted on all side except our like-minded communities, which is a sad loss to all.

      2. KeithL2 years ago

        Your phrase “I FEEL about conservatives.” illustrates Williams point that liberals are:

        “driven more by passion than by reason – difficult to debate emotional arguments.”

        Conservatives are more likely to say, “Here’s what I THINK about your liberal ideas”, and proceed to deliver a syllogism. I find conservatives more likely to use valid logic. They are more likely to reconsider their position if logic or new information invalidates it. They tend to recognize that feeling aren’t facts, and that groupthink is not made “true” simply by being popular.

        I find liberals expect free speech, intellectual comfort, and respect for their feelings. Disagreement is considered uninvited, and therefore rude. (Celebrate my beliefs or shut up). If they do try to persuade, they try to make you FEEL their position is on the moral high ground, and FEEL shame for any differing opinions. Pointing out fallacies in the conclusions of a liberal tends to trigger excruciating cognitive dissonance. Also, they rarely speak of personal responsibility, rather they stage issues as victim-villain, which seems to be their platform for declaring they are society’s moral heroes. From this high position, they point our the distance between the “here and now” and utopia.

        Obviously these are generalizations, but where better to generalize than Pew.