This chart absolutely terrifies me
Polarization in trust in the media pushes us into irreconcilable political realities
The Pew Research Center released an excellent and comprehensive, yet simultaneously absolutely terrifying, report on polarization in trust in the news media last week. They find that “deep partisan divisions exist in the news sources Americans trust, distrust and rely on”, particularly on the political right. They present this graph showing the share of each political party put their trust in and rely on different media sources:
The Republican Party’s obsession with Fox News is laid bare in Pew’s new polling. The authors of the report write that 65% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents trust Fox News as a source for political and election news, more than 30 percentage points higher than the next-trusted outlet (ABC News). Conservative Republicans are even more devoted (and deferential) to the channel. Pew’s researchers also find that these divides have widened over time.
Polarization in Democrats’ and Republicans’ media ecosystems is one of the most concerning emerging patterns in American democracy.
In 2016, researchers published an article in Scientific Reports that found that media echo chambers increased both the emotional negativity of group members and their willingness to believe in conspiracy theories. Fox News raises particular concerns because of its intense devotion to the Republican Party. In 2007, economic researchers Stefano DellaVigna and Ethan Kaplan found that Fox’s introduction in a town’s media market was associated with a 0.4 to 0.7 percentage point increase in GOP vote share in presidential elections.
But this graph from a new exploratory data tool from Pew makes me especially nervous about the future of our democracy. It shows that people who consumed Fox News were between 39 and 58 percentage points more likely to think that Donald Trump pressured Ukranian prosecutors to investigate Joe Biden’s business dealings because he “wanted to […] reduce corruption in Ukraine” rather than to boost his prospects of being re-elected in 2020. (To be clear, I think a close reading of the evidence suggests that the latter, rather than the former, is true.)
These data show just how effective Fox is at getting its viewers to buy into their hard-right talking points. The network’s owners have built a massive and effective machine to disseminate far-right propaganda and conspiracy theories to the mass public. Fox is a brutally efficient extension of the Republican Party’s uncompromising dedication to winning elections no matter the cost.
At such a tenuous moment in our country’s politics—when the country is on the verge of removing the sitting president from office for violating his oath to uphold and defend the Constitution—reformers should think long and hard about how to combat this disturbing trend in partisan polarization in trust in the media.
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