The very different media universes in which Americans live, visualized

The fact that you are reading this article on the Washington Post website means that I can make some basic assumptions about who you are. More likely than not, you’re a college graduate earning over $50,000 a year. You probably voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and not Donald Trump.

You can be an exception; There are many. But, as a new poll from YouGov and The Economist shows, there are patterns of media consumption that correlate with education, age, income and party.

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The research is interesting not because it reveals anything particularly upsetting; the demographics of newspaper readers are both well-established and a fixation of people trying to sell newspapers. Instead, the new poll offers fascinating breadth in determining where people get their news and what media outlets they trust.

We’ll start with the celebrities: CNN’s Anderson Cooper is the most trusted host and news anchor included in YouGov’s questions. Predictably, given his employer, there was a wide divide by party: nearly two-thirds of Democrats rated him as trustworthy or very trustworthy, compared to about 1 in 7 Republicans. Carlson of Fox News, the partisanship was reversed. More than half of Republicans trust Carlson, compared to 1 in 8 Democrats.

Focusing on cable news itself is narrow. YouGov asked people to identify the sources they had used for news over the past week, offering a range of options from broadcast news to YouTube. We’ve plotted those responses below by age, vaccination status, and party.

This type of chart may not be immediately familiar to you, so a quick explanation of how to read the chart is in order. The values ​​radiate from the middle of the chart to the outer edge, with the two circles indicating 25% and 50% respondents. The sources of information are identified at the end of the shelves. So in the first graph below, more than half of people 65 and older said they used cable and TV for their news in the past week, while more than a third of those under 30 years used social media.

There are interesting overlaps between age and vaccination status and between vaccination status and party. For example, the unvaccinated are less likely to cite traditional news sources than the vaccinated, but so are younger Americans, who are less likely to be vaccinated. In other words, it’s not just that the unvaccinated rely more on YouTube. This is confused with the fact that young people rely more on YouTube.

Note, however, that the curves for vaccinating and being a Democrat are similar, as are the curves for being unvaccinated and being a Republican. It’s simpler: the unvaccinated are much more likely to be Republicans than Democrats. This goes against the trend by age, since younger people are more likely to be Democrats.

We can see the differences between these groups more clearly when we look at trust in specific news sources – where party and ideology begin to show up explicitly. So we see that older Americans are more likely to trust Fox News and PBS. Young Americans are more likely to trust national newspapers like the Washington Post. (The values ​​for broadcast television below are the average of the three national networks.)

And then things get interesting.

What’s really striking about the bottom two charts is how similar they are. Media trust patterns are the same for the unvaccinated as for the Republicans. Moreover, this trust is centered on right-wing sources such as Fox News, One America News (OAN) and Newsmax. Three in 10 Republicans say they find the OAN trustworthy or very trustworthy; for Newsmax, it’s 4 out of 10. That’s more than double the level of confidence expressed for PBS, Associated Press or The Post.

The bottom chart also reinforces a point I wrote about on Monday. Democrats divide their attention between several sources of information much more than Republicans. This is the main reason why Fox consistently tops the charts. It’s not because Americans trust it (it trails most other national outlets); that’s because Republicans often rely on it to the exclusion of other sources.

With effects felt everywhere else.


Washington

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