Released: September 12, 2010
Americans Spending More Time Following the News
Ideological News Sources: Who Watches and Why
Section 4: Who is Listening, Watching, Reading – and Why
Not all Americans are looking for the same things when they turn to the news. With the wide array of news sources now available, the regular audiences for various news outlets offer differing top reasons why those sources appeal to them. Regular CNN viewers, for example, overwhelmingly say they turn to CNN for the latest news and headlines, rather than for in-depth reporting, opinions about the news or entertainment. Many regular New York Times and Wall Street Journal readers value the publications for their in-depth reporting, and, not surprisingly, those who watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report regularly say overwhelmingly that they are mostly seeking entertainment – not the latest headlines and in-depth reporting – from those programs.
When it comes to cable news programs such as The Glenn Beck Program or The Rachel Maddow Show, roughly a third of regular viewers say they turn to these sources mainly for the interesting views and opinions they provide. Still, roughly the same numbers say they turn to these programs mostly for hard news.
While 64% of regular CNN viewers say they go there mostly for the latest news and headlines, only 44% of regular viewers of Fox News say the same. While about one-in-ten (11%) regular Fox News viewers say they turn to the channel mostly for “interesting views and opinions,” 22% volunteer that it is a combination of offerings – the mix of hard news, opinion and entertainment – that draws them to the network.
The same kind of pattern holds with NPR – 28% of regular listeners say there is no single aspect of NPR coverage that draws them in, but instead the combination of breaking news, in-depth reporting, interesting opinions and entertainment. And, though the show offers a different kind of content, many of Rush Limbaugh’s regular radio listeners say the same. While 37% say they mostly listen to Limbaugh for views and opinions, 28% say it is the combination of news, opinion and entertainment that they find appealing.
News magazines like Time, Newsweek and U.S. News, have a similar profile – many regular readers cite them as sources for headlines, in-depth reporting, and interesting views and opinions. The same can be said for political blogs and for Sunday morning television talk shows.
While a number of programs clearly appeal to overwhelmingly ideological audiences, not all viewers cite the views and opinions presented on those shows as the main reason they watch. For example, 80% of those who regularly watch Sean Hannity’s show say they are conservative, but only 39% say the views and opinions presented on the show are the main reason they watch. Nearly as many regular viewers (35%) say they turn to the show mainly for breaking news (14%) or in-depth reporting (21%).
The same is true at the other end of the spectrum: Rachel Maddow’s regular MSNBC audience is roughly twice-as-liberal as the national average, yet as many viewers cite her show as a source of breaking news and in-depth reporting as sources of opinion and viewpoints.
Audience Party and Ideology Profiles
More than half of the audiences for Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly and about six-in-10 of those who regularly watch Sean Hannity or listen to Rush Limbaugh say they are Republicans. Fully 80% of regular Hannity and Limbaugh viewers and listeners describe themselves as conservative, as do 74% of Beck’s and 72% of O’Reilly’s regular viewers. Among the general public, 36% describe themselves as conservative, while 37% are moderates and 19% are liberals.
Fox News overall has a larger regular audience than any of its individual opinion-oriented programs (23% of adults regularly watch Fox News, compared with 10% for O’Reilly, 7% for Beck, and 6% for Hannity). While the channel’s viewership tilts much more Republican and conservative than the population as a whole, that tilt is less pronounced for the channel as a whole than for the individual shows.
None of the leading conservative political shows has an audience with more than 10% Democrats – though a third of the public (33%) describes themselves as Democrats.
On the other hand, at least half of the audiences for MSNBC’s political talk programs – Hardball with Chris Matthews, the Rachel Maddow Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann – say they are Democrats. Just 3% of Olbermann’s audience and 12% of Maddow’s viewers say they are Republicans. Looking at New York Times regular readers, 9% say they are Republicans, far less than the 25% of the American public that says they are Republicans.
Liberal-leaning shows have more liberals among their audiences than there are in the general population, but these programs also attract a lot of moderates. Olbermann’s audience has the largest share of liberals (43%), more than double the percentage for the overall population, but his audience has about as many moderates (42%); 12% of his regular viewers say they are conservative.
Audiences and Political Labels
Asked whether certain political labels applied to them, majorities of Americans say they are environmentalists (60%) or are pro-business (56%). About four-in-ten say they are Christian conservatives (43%), progressive (41%), NRA supporters (40%), or gay rights supporters (40%). Fewer say they are supporters of the Tea Party movement (25%) or that they are libertarian (18%).
Identification with these labels varies greatly across the various media audiences. Roughly three-quarters of Limbaugh (76%), Beck (76%) and Hannity (75%) regular audiences say they are Tea Party supporters, while just 10% of Maddow viewers, 8% of New York Times readers and 5% of Olbermann viewers say they support the Tea Party.
The differences are nearly as large when looking at Christian conservatives. At least seven-in-ten Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck and O’Reilly regular viewers say they are Christian conservatives. By contrast, just 12% of regular New York Times readers say so. Two-in-ten Olbermann viewers (20%) say this label applies to them, as do 29% of Maddow viewers and 28% of NPR listeners. About four-in-ten (41%) Hardball viewers say they are Christian conservatives, about the same as the public as a whole (43%).
Support for the NRA, the National Rifle Association, ranges from 76% of Limbaugh’s audience to 13% of regular readers of the New York Times. Audiences of the four conservative talk shows were most likely to call themselves supporters of the gun-owners lobby, while audiences of Olberman and Maddow were less likely to adopt the label than was any other audience – except for the readership of the New York Times. Four-in-ten Americans say they are NRA supporters.
Environmentalists, Progressives and Gay Right Supporters
Regular audiences of Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh and O’Reilly are the least likely to call themselves environmentalists, or to say that they are progressive. The term environmentalist is much more popular with a number of audiences: At least three-quarters of the audiences for Matthews, Olbermann, Maddow, MSNBC, the Daily Show, news magazines and NPR say this label applies to them.
The term progressive is less popular, but at least six-in-ten regular viewers of the Colbert Report, Maddow and CNN, plus NPR listeners and readers of the New York Times and news magazines call themselves progressive.
When it comes to support for gay rights, almost eight-in-ten New York Times readers (78%) say they are supporters, making them almost twice as likely as the American public (40%) to adopt this label. Just 22% of Hannity viewers and Limbaugh listeners are gay rights supporters.
The regular Hannity and Limbaugh audiences, along with Wall Street Journal readers and O’Reilly and Beck viewers, also are most likely to call themselves pro-business. At least half of every audience in the survey says they are pro-business.
Relatively small percentages of all news audiences – and just 18% of the public – describe themselves as libertarian. The proportion of libertarians ranges from 33% for Wall Street Journal readers to 13% for Maddow viewers.
Attitudes about Politics
As one might expect, audiences of liberal programming are much more likely to approve of the job President Obama is doing than are audiences of conservative programming. At least eight-in-ten Maddow and Olbermann viewers say they approve of the job Obama is doing, while 13% of O’Reilly viewers, 11% of Beck viewers, 9% of Limbaugh viewers and 7% of Hannity viewers approve. In this survey, just under half (48%) of Americans say they approve of the job the president is doing.
New York Times readers express much higher approval (79%) of Obama than do USA Today (46%) or Wall Street Journal (39%) readers. Almost two-thirds of NPR viewers approve. Three-in-ten Fox News viewers approve, while about two-thirds of MSNBC and CNN watchers approve. Almost seven-in-ten watchers of the political humor shows the Colbert Report (68%) and the Daily Show (69%) approve of the job Obama is doing.
Views of Government
Americans overall are divided over whether the government is doing too much – or too little – to solve problems: 43% say the government should do more to solve problems, while 47% say the government does too much that is better left to businesses or individuals. Regular audiences for news blogs, local and national TV news and Sunday morning news and talk programs are divided along similar lines.
Audiences of the conservative political shows, however, are firmly in the government-does-too-much-camp. At least three quarters of the audiences for O’Reilly (77%), Beck (79%), Limbaugh (81%) and Hannity (84%) express this view. At the other end of the spectrum, about seven-in-ten Maddow viewers (69%) and six-in-ten Olbermann viewers (61%) say the government should do more to solve problems.
Views of News Media
Most Americans see some news sources as more trustworthy than others (57%), though much higher percentages of the regular audiences for many of the options in the survey agree with this statement. At least three-quarters of the regular audiences for 11 of the 24 sources say some sources are more trustworthy than others. And, as in the past, most Americans (62%) say they prefer to get news from sources that don’t have a particular point of view. A quarter (25%) says they want news that shares their point of view.
Viewers of both liberal and conservative talk shows are more evenly divided on whether they prefer news that shares their point of view than is the general public.
When evaluating news sources, viewers of Hannity (90%) and the other conservative hosts (84% each) are especially likely to say there are some sources they trust more than others. That is also the case for readers of the New York Times (85%) and the Wall Street Journal (84%). Conversely, regular television news watchers (nightly network news, morning news and local TV news) are about as likely as the general public to say some news sources are more trustworthy.
When it comes to mixing news and point of view, about 45% of the audiences regularly watching shows hosted by Hannity, Matthews, Beck and Maddow say they want news without a point of view. Almost as many say they want news from their own perspective. At the other end of the spectrum, at least seven-in-ten NPR listeners, Colbert Report and Daily Show watchers and USA Today readers say they want news without a point of view. Regular readers of blogs that cover news and politics are split along the same lines as the general public: 59% want news without a particular viewpoint, and 29% want news from their point of view.
Perceptions of Bias
About half of Americans (52%) say they see a lot of bias in news coverage, but regular audiences for many of the news sources in the survey are much more likely to say they see a lot of bias than the public as a whole.
Looking at partisans, Republicans generally see more bias in media coverage (62% a lot) than Democrats (47%) or independents (53%). The same holds true for conservatives (61%) when compared to moderates (49%) and liberals (46%).
Regular audiences for the more conservative shows are among the most likely to say they see a lot of bias in news coverage. Nine-in-ten Hannity viewers, 87% of Limbaugh’s regular audience and 81% of O’Reilly’s say they see a lot of bias in news coverage. Still, close to seven-in-ten (69%) regular viewers of Chris Matthews’ MSNBC show say this, while about six-in-ten of regular Maddow (60%) and Olbermann (59%) viewers agree. Among regular blog readers, 71% say they see a lot of bias in the news.
Viewers of morning news programs (51%), nightly network news (51%) and local TV news (52%) are less likely to say they see a lot of bias.
Audience Age and Profiles
Because younger people spend so much less time with the news than older people, the profile of most news audiences is substantially older than the nation as a whole. Still, there are a few key exceptions.
The late night Colbert Report audience is the youngest of the 24 studied: 53% of its regular viewers are 18 to 29, while just 23% of American adults are younger than 30. The Daily Show (41% younger than 30) and the New York Times (34%) also have younger regular audiences. Interestingly, the percentage of New York Times regular readers under 30 is more than double the 13% of regular daily newspaper readers in the 18-29 age group overall.
On the other hand, Sean Hannity’s show and Hardball with Chris Matthews have a lot of regular viewers who are 65 and older. While 17% of the country is in that age group, 30% of Hannity viewers and 35% of Hardball watchers are at least 65.
In terms of gender, many news audiences have roughly the same percentages of men and women watching, listening or reading. The proportions are more lopsided in the audiences of several media sources, however. Two thirds of the Wall Street Journal’s regular readership is male (67%), while one third is female (33%). The proportions are almost exactly reversed for regular watchers of morning news programs (32% men, 68% women). The Colbert Report and the Daily Show, as well as Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, all have more men than women in their audiences, while local and national TV news have more women than men among regular viewers.
Women have become a bigger part of the Hannity audience since 2008. Two years ago, women were 33% of Sean Hannity’s audience. This year, they are 45%.
Audience Income and Education Profiles
The Wall Street Journal and New York Times have the most highly educated – and the highest-income – audiences of the media sources measured. Fully 71% of regular Wall Street Journal readers have a college degree, as do 65% of regular Times readers. (Nationwide, three-in-ten adults have college degrees.) Most regular readers of these newspapers also have family incomes of at least $75,000 a year, compared with just 26% of all Americans who are at that income level. USA Today, news magazines and NPR also have particularly high-income audiences.
Asked a series of four questions to test their knowledge about politics and current events, just 14% of the public got all four correct – as many got all four wrong (15%). Two-in-ten got three correct, 26% two and 25% one. Regular readers, viewers or listeners of most media sources outscored the general public.
People were asked which party currently controls the House of Representatives (Democrats), to identify the post held by Eric Holder (U.S. attorney general), which company is run by Steve Jobs (Apple) and which country has an active volcano that disrupted international air travel earlier this year (Iceland).
Wall Street Journal readers fared the best on the quiz—51% of regular Journal readers got all four questions right; just 3% got none right. New York Times readers also fared well: 42% got all of the questions right. USA Today readers scored better than the general public, but not nearly as well as Times or Journal readers; 22% of USA Today readers got all the questions correct, while 6% got all four wrong. As a whole, 22% of daily paper readers answered all the questions correctly.
Looking at the talk shows, at least 30% of the audiences for Limbaugh, Hannity, Olbermann and Maddow got all four questions correct. O’Reilly’s audience did about as well (29%). The regular Glenn Beck and Hardball audiences performed slightly worse, with 21% and 23% of their respective viewers getting all the questions correct. Daily Show and Colbert Report audiences fared about as well.
Overall, seven-in-ten Americans know that Democrats have a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. No media audience did poorly on this question, and 90% or more of the Hannity, Limbaugh and O’Reilly audiences got this right.
Far fewer know that Eric Holder is the attorney general. Just 22% got this question right. Wall Street Journal readers and Hannity viewers performed best on this question, with 56% of each audience answering it correctly.
About four-in-ten (41%) know that Steve Jobs is the head of Apple. Wall Street Journal (85%) and New York Times (80%) readers are especially likely to know this. Six-in-ten know that the volcanic eruption that recently disrupted international air travel is in Iceland. Journal (82% correct) and Times (81%) readers also did especially well on this question.
Cable News Audiences at a Glance
A comparison of the profiles of audiences for cable news outlets reveals substantial partisan and ideological differences. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all attract roughly the same proportions of women and men and young people and old people as regular viewers. But while Republicans make up 17% of the CNN audience and 14% of the MSBNC audience, they are a much bigger share of the Fox audience: 44%, and these are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans (34% of the total).
Democrats, meanwhile, make up 21% of Fox’s audience, but 47% of CNN’s and 53% of MSNBC’s. Liberal Democrats make up just 3% of the Fox cable network’s audience.
Fox’s regular viewers are much more likely to call themselves Christian conservatives, to be NRA supporters and to be Tea Party supporters than are regular watchers of the other cable networks. CNN and MSNBC audiences are more likely to call themselves environmentalists, progressives and gay rights supporters than are Fox viewers.
Major Newspaper Audiences at a Glance
In many respects, regular readers of daily newspapers look very much like the country as a whole, but readers of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today differ a great deal from one another and from newspaper readers in general.
Readers of each of the three national papers are more likely to be male than are regular readers of all daily newspapers. This is especially the case for the Wall Street Journal: Two-thirds of its readership is male. Fully a third of the New York Times’ regular readership is younger than 30, more than twice the percentage for daily papers overall and a higher share than for the Journal or USA Today.
Regular readers of the Wall Street Journal (71%) and New York Times (65%) are much more likely to have graduated from college than are readers of USA Today (45%) or readers of newspapers overall (40%). The audiences for all three major papers come from households with higher family income, but the difference is more dramatic for the Times and Journal.
Politically, the papers’ audiences are very different. Just 9% of the New York Times’ regular readers are Republicans, but at least a third of Journal (36%) and USA Today (33%) readers are Republicans. Democrats (49%) — liberal Democrats in particular (26%) — are a much bigger part of the New York Times’ readership than of the other papers.
New York Times readers are much more likely to say they are gay rights supporters and progressives than are readers of the Wall Street Journal or USA Today. Times readers are much less likely to call themselves Tea Party supporters, NRA supporters or Christian conservatives than are readers of the other two national papers. Journal readers are more likely to say they are pro-business than are readers of the other papers, though clear majorities of all three audiences say they are pro-business.