Liberals and Conservatives Consume News Differently, Study Finds

A study by the Pew Research Center found a distinct partisan divide when it comes to how people get their news.

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Voters cast their ballots at the WCR Hall November 6, 2012 in Macksburg, Iowa.

Voters cast their ballots at the WCR Hall November 6, 2012 in Macksburg, Iowa.

Photograph by Steve Pope/Getty Images

Liberals live on Mars and conservatives on Venus when comes to getting news about politics and government, and there's little overlap in the sources they turn to and trust, a study released Tuesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center shows.

"In a nation marked by increasing ideological uniformity and partisan animosity, those with the most consistent ideological views on the left and the right have information streams that are very distinct from each other and from those of individuals with more mixed political views," the study says.

Even so, the report also shows that the modern information environment makes it hard to live in an ideological bubble. Most Americans rely on multiple outlets and many conservatives and liberals hear dissenting views in their everyday lives.

"Whether they are looking for it or not, most people today are exposed to political views that differ from their own," said Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research.

The study found that hard-core conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than other groups in the survey, with 47 percent citing Fox News as their main source for government and political information.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, 88 percent trust Fox News.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions on Facebook that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

When it comes to those who hold "consistently liberal" views, the study found:

  • Less uniformity in media loyalty. They rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some—like National Public Radio and the New York Times—others use far less.
  • More trust than distrust in 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • More likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network—as well as to end a personal friendship—because of politics.
  • A greater tendency to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

Conservatives and liberals do share some common ground, however: They're much more likely than others to closely follow government and political news. Nearly four-in-ten conservatives and 30 percent of liberals tend to drive political discussions, meaning they talk about politics often, say others tend to turn to them for information and describe themselves as leaders rather than listeners in these conversations. Among those with mixed ideological views, just 12 percent play a similar role.

The study is based on an online survey conducted March 19 through April 29 with 2,901 members of Pew’s American Trends Panel, a group recruited from a nationally representative telephone survey.

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