The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The most loyal Trump allies are Republicans who watch Fox News

What’s not obvious is who is influencing whom.

President Trump greets talk show host Sean Hannity at a Make America Great Again rally in Cape Girardeau, Mo., in 2018. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Standing by itself, the graph below is an ominous one for President Trump as his 2020 reelection bid gins up.

Nearly half of respondents in PRRI’s annual American Values Survey say that they disapprove of Trump and that nothing he could do would change their minds. By contrast, only about a quarter of respondents say the opposite: They’ll stick with Trump no matter what.

Among Democrats, solid, unwavering opposition to the president extends to three-quarters of respondents. Among independents, it’s nearly half — and among those who approve of Trump, most say that they could be influenced to change their minds. Even among Republicans, although most approve of the president, the majority of that group say that he could cross a line that would cause them to turn on him.

But it’s that 37 percent of Republicans that has been the focus of so much attention since he took office. That’s the group that supports Trump no matter what, the group that stands with him and will almost certainly continue to stand with him. The group that’s the centerpiece of Trump’s reelection energies.

No part of that group is more loyal than those Republicans who watch Fox News Channel.

PRRI’s data broke out its responses into a variety of interesting demographics. Among them was dividing the Republican responses by education level (not an atypical grouping) and by news consumption. Although 37 percent of Republicans overall said that almost nothing could dissuade them from approving of Trump, more than half of Republicans whose primary news source is Fox News held that view. By contrast, only about 3 in 10 Republicans whose primary news source is something other than Fox were as solid in their support of Trump. Even Republicans without a college degree, a bastion of Trump’s support in 2016, and white evangelical Protestants were less likely to say that they expected to stick with Trump no matter what.

That carried over into impeachment: Nearly all evangelical Republicans (a narrower group than the group above) and all of those Republicans who cite Fox as their main news source oppose impeaching Trump and removing him from office.

There are three possibilities for this strong connection between support for Trump and reliance on Fox News for information. The first is that Fox News is driving attitudes about Trump. The second is that Fox’s coverage is a response to the opinions of its viewers. The third is that it’s a coincidence.

It’s probably safe to set aside that third option, given the extent to which Trump himself correlates Fox News coverage with support for his presidency. He’s constantly sharing useful Fox News clips with his millions of followers on Twitter and has in the past criticized the network when it dared to step outside a pro-Trump orthodoxy.

“Fox News is changing fast,” he wrote on Twitter in July, “but they forgot the people who got them there!”

As we’ve noted before, Fox’s coverage is also broadly friendly to Trump on even controversial issues. A good example comes from recent coverage of the events driving the impeachment inquiry in the House.

After the White House released a rough transcript of a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president and then a complaint filed by an anonymous whistleblower, Fox was more likely than other cable networks to talk about “secondhand” — as in, the complaint relied on secondhand information. When a Trump-friendly outlet reported incorrectly that rules had been changed to allow a complaint predicated on secondhand information, Fox News and Fox Business used the term a lot. When the inspector general for the intelligence community debunked that claim (which Trump had embraced), CNN and MSNBC were more likely to use the word than were the Fox networks.

There are numerous other examples. Each weeknight, Fox News airs several hours of coverage that is consistently friendly to Trump, including Sean Hannity’s hour-long program, which not only rarely criticizes Trump but is often a driver of pro-Trump rhetoric.

Again, though, it’s hard to say from these data alone that the views of the most loyal Trump supporters necessarily derive from Fox News as opposed to Fox simply reflecting those views back to the audience. Trump himself is a prototypical Fox News viewer: Loyal to the network, energetic and staunchly supportive of Fox-style politics. Even for him, though, the question of who’s driving whom is complicated.

PRRI also found that those Republicans who rely most on Fox News are also much more likely to hold strongly polarized views about social issues. Republicans who watch Fox News were much more likely than other Republicans to say that men in American society are punished just for being men and that society has become too soft.

They are also more likely to see discrimination against whites as a significant problem and to view immigrants to the United States as “invaders” who are threatening a perceived homogeneous American culture.

These views are fostered by Fox News. After a mass shooting in El Paso earlier this year, a short anti-immigrant screed apparently written by the shooter revealed an opposition to immigrants as “invaders.” That prompted the liberal watchdog group Media Matters to catalogue the extent to which that verbiage had appeared on Fox News, finding that it had often been used. The network also lifts up stories focused on what it presents as anti-white discrimination and aggression toward conservatives more broadly.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that Fox News is driving views of Trump comes from a 2017 study linking Fox News viewership to an increase in acceptance of right-wing political views — and, therefore, voting for Republicans. There are anecdotal examples of people becoming more conservative on a Fox News diet, as well.

Regardless of causation, the link is obvious. There is no more fervent and loyal base of support for Trump, according to PRRI, than Republicans who rely on Fox News.