How Partisanship Shapes and Divides News Preferences

Alarming results for media observers

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A new study from Pew suggests that Americans' political beliefs have left them divided regarding the media.
Daniel R. Blume/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / January 25, 2020 4:30 pm

A new Pew study has sobering news about how ideological and partisan opinions shape Americans’ consumption of news. At NiemanLab, Laura Hazard Owen analyzed the results of the study — and found that liberals and conservatives (and Democrats and Republicans) trust and distrust almost none of the same news sources. The study offers data along partisan and ideological lines, and in both cases it paints a picture of a highly divided nation.

This is perhaps most apparent in the differing perceptions of Fox News and CNN. Fox News was the most trusted news source among those who identify as or lean Republican, and the most distrusted among those who identify as or lean Democratic. The reverse was true for CNN.

One side’s trusted source was the other’s distrusted source of news in numerous cases. There were some exceptions: BuzzFeed was distrusted by people on both sides of the ideological divide, and while Breitbart was distrusted by many on the liberal side of things, that didn’t translate it into being one of the top vote-getters on the “trusted” side for conservatives.

Owen notes that questions of trust and distrust don’t necessarily influence consumption of news. She writes, “not trusting a news source is not the same as not watching or reading it.”

The question of how ideology shapes perceptions of news is something that media reporters and analysts have pondered for many years. A 2016 article in The New York Times examined the influence of partisan influencers on the media ecosystem. And a 2018 report from FiveThirtyEight questioned the relationship of media bubbles to partisanship.

But at a time when news outlets offer wildly differing takes on certain heated issues, these questions of trust and distrust can have a huge impact on elections and public policy — and it’s hard to imagine things stabilizing any time soon.

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