In a late 2019 survey conducted as part of Pew Research Center’s Election News Pathways project, Fox News and CNN were named by the largest segments of U.S. adults as their main political news source – 16% and 12%, respectively. Six other news outlets – NPR, NBC News, ABC News, MSNBC, CBS News and The New York Times – were named by at least 2% of adults. The sources named by the remaining 51% of U.S. adults resulted in a long tail of more than 50 other individual brands.
The findings are based on a survey conducted from Oct. 29 to Nov. 11, 2019, of 12,043 U.S. adults who are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel.
This examination of Americans’ main sources for political and election news is based on a survey of 12,043 U.S. adults conducted Oct. 29 to Nov. 11, 2019.
Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel, an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. Recruiting our panelists by phone or mail ensures that nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. This gives us confidence that any sample can represent the whole population (see our Methods 101 explainer on random sampling). To further ensure that each survey reflects a balanced cross section of the nation, the data is weighted to match the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.
In addition to asking respondents whether they got political and election news in the past week from each of 30 different sources (selected to represent a range of news media across different platforms), respondents were asked in an open-ended question to write in the one main source they rely on most for this news. Researchers grouped responses together by brand: For example, “NY Times,” “NYT” and “nytimes.com” were all counted as indicating The New York Times.
In all, about half (49%) of U.S. adults named one of these eight outlets as their main source for political and election news. The long list of all other individual outlets, named by fewer than 2% of respondents, included larger sources like The Washington Post, the BBC and Rush Limbaugh, as well as more niche sources such as One America News, The Young Turks and individual local newspapers. Some of the remaining respondents named social media sites (4% in total) or a medium without any specific outlet specified (“radio,” “the internet”). Finally, 13% of respondents declined to provide a recognizable news outlet, left the field blank or said they didn’t remember the name of their main news source. You can see a longer list of sources that were mentioned here.
Partisanship in Americans’ main sources for political news
Four of the eight sources named by at least 2% of U.S. adults are much more likely to be named by Democrats and independents who lean Democratic than by Republicans and GOP leaners: MSNBC, The New York Times, NPR and CNN. Fox News is the one outlet among these eight that is far more likely to be named by Republicans than by Democrats.
Those who name Fox News and MSNBC display roughly the same high levels of partisanship. About nine-in-ten of those whose main source is Fox News (93%) identify as Republican, very close to the 95% of those who name MSNBC and identify as Democrats. Similarly, about nine-in-ten of those who name The New York Times (91%) and NPR (87%) as their main political news source identify as Democrats, with CNN at about eight-in-ten (79%).
The three major broadcast news networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – have more of a mix of Democrats and Republicans among those who name these outlets as their main sources for political news. For example, the makeup of those who name NBC News as their main source is 57% Democratic versus 38% Republican.
New York Times is a main source for a comparatively large share of young adults
Looking across the eight most commonly named main sources for political and election news, NPR and The New York Times have greater appeal to younger Americans. About six-in-ten of those who name NPR (64%) or The New York Times (63%) as their primary political news source are under age 50.
The New York Times has the highest proportion of adults ages 18 to 29 who name it as their main source, at 29%. Those ages 30 to 49 are most likely to name NPR (49%).
Among those who named MSNBC, CBS News or Fox News as their main source for political news, about seven-in-ten are ages 50 and older.
Women more likely than men to turn to network TV outlets
A few other demographic differences stand out among those who name each of these eight outlets as their main source for political and election news. Women are much more likely than men to favor network TV, as they make up about six-in-ten or more of those who cite CBS (70%), ABC (60%) or NBC (58%) as their main source for political news. Those who name NPR and The New York Times as their main source tend to be more educated, with about seven-in-ten in each group having at least a bachelor’s degree (68% and 72%, respectively). And while those who name Fox News as their main news source are predominantly white (87%), nearly half of those who rely on CNN are some other race or ethnicity (47%).
These measures and more can be explored further in the Election News Pathways data tool, where all of the data associated with this project is available for public use.