Liberals and conservatives are getting their news from very different places, and that could be contributing to political polarization, according to a new study on the media habits of Americans.
The Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday finds that those furthest to the right and the left — comprising about 20 percent of the total American public — gather political news differently from those on the opposite end of the political spectrum, and feel very differently about the trustworthiness of news in general.
Liberals name CNN, NPR, MSNBC, and the New York Times as their main news sources and in general trust news outlets. Conservatives, on the other hand, are much more likely to receive their news from a single news source and generally distrust the media. Forty-seven percent of conservatives surveyed cited Fox News as their primary news source.
The report may not reach any surprising conclusions — increasing media segmentation among liberals and conservatives is well documented — but it does shed light on the “ideological silos” that form and how that trickles out into public life.
Pew found that political conversation right now is driven by the extremes. People furthest to the right and left are seen by others as leaders on political topics and are the most likely to drive discussions on politics. And those furthest on the left and the right are, importantly, the most likely to exert influence on the political process; they are more likely to vote, to participate in campaigns, and to donate money.
But the study also finds that despite an increasing tendency toward polarization, most Americans ultimately find and read political news through a variety of sources.
“The differences between the media habits of liberals and conservatives – and between those in the ideological ends and the middle – is striking,” said Amy Mitchell, the Pew Research Center’s journalism research director. “But this report also shows that it’s difficult for anyone to live in an information silo. Whether they are looking for it or not, most people today are exposed to political views that differ from their own.”
The survey of 2,901 adults was conducted between March 19 and April 29 2014 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. The report is part of a broader project by the Pew Research Center that investigates political polarization among Americans.