Since Rush Limbaugh launched his radio program in the late 1980s, the market for conservative-leaning talk shows, like the broader news and talk universe, has grown much more crowded. Today, Bill O’Reilly’s cable show attracts more conservatives on a regular basis than does Limbaugh’s radio show, while Sean Hannity’s program draws about as many conservatives as Limbaugh’s.
Yet by one standard, Limbaugh’s conservative appeal continues to stand out. In Pew Research’s 2008 news media consumption survey, as in previous biennial news surveys, Limbaugh’s audience was the most conservative. That is, conservatives made up a greater share of his regular audience than of the regular audiences for the “O’Reilly Factor,” “Hannity & Colmes” (now called “Hannity”), or any of the 39 programs or networks tested.
Fully 80% of those who said they regularly listened to Limbaugh’s show were self-identified conservatives, compared with 7% who were moderates and 10% who were liberals. The audiences for Hannity & Colmes and O’Reilly were solidly conservative, but not as conservative as Limbaugh’s: 68% of regular Hannity & Colmes viewers were conservatives, as were 66% of regular O’Reilly viewers.
It is important to note, however, that Limbaugh’s syndicated radio show does not have the reach of O’Reilly’s nightly cable program. Among the general public, 10% said they regularly watched O’Reilly, compared with 7% who regularly watched Hannity & Colmes and 5% who regularly listened to Limbaugh. Among conservatives, 19% said they regularly watched O’Reilly, compared with 12% for Hannity & Colmes and 10% for Limbaugh.
Limbaugh’s Show a Male Bastion
The news consumption survey also found that Limbaugh’s audience included a greater share of men than the audiences for any other news or opinion outlet included in the survey. Fully 72% of those who said they regularly listen to Limbaugh were men while just 28% were women. Again, this does not mean that more men tune into Limbaugh’s show than other news and talk programs; rather, men make up a greater share of his audience than the audiences for other programs.
The audience for Hannity & Colmes also was dominated by men, though to a slightly lesser extent than Limbaugh’s. Two-thirds of the regular viewers were men while just a third were women. O’Reilly’s audience was more balanced: 53% of those who say they regularly watch the O’Reilly Factor are men; 47% are women.
The news consumption survey found that women outnumbered men among those who regularly listen to religious radio; 69% of religious radio listeners were women, while just 31% were men. Network TV news outlets also drew in more women than men among their regular viewers. The disparity was particularly evident in the audience for morning news programs, such the Today show. Almost two-thirds of (65%) regular viewers of these programs were women while 35% were men.
Limbaugh’s audience fared relatively well on the news quiz that was included on last year’s news consumption survey: 36% of his regular listeners answered all three political knowledge questions correctly. Respondents were asked to name the political party that had a majority in the House of Representatives (Democratic Party); the U.S. secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice); and the British prime minister (Gordon Brown).
Limbaugh’s regular audience did not do as well as the regular Hannity & Colmes audience (42% all three correct). But Limbaugh listeners did better than regular O’Reilly viewers (28%). Notably, both the Limbaugh and Hannity & Colmes audiences did relatively well on the quiz despite being not particularly well-educated. Just 31% of people who said they regularly watched Hannity & Colmes are college graduates, as were 33% of regular Limbaugh listeners. A somewhat greater share of regular O’Reilly viewers are college graduates (38%).
For more on the public’s political knowledge, see “Who Knows News? What You Read or View Matters, but Not Your Politics.”