To the extent that Fox still needs to deal with the fallout from Trump’s temperamental criticisms, the president’s explicit link between the network and electing Republicans will not make things easier. It needs to get advertisers to pay money for ad blocks, something that’s been trickier in recent years in the aftermath of relatively effective boycotts targeting hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham after their controversial comments. If a fabric softener’s marketing team is trying to decide where to buy 30 seconds of airtime, how enthusiastic will they be about doing so on a channel that the president thinks should be in the business of electing members of his own political party?
The irony of this, of course, is that Fox News has clearly been effective at helping to bolster Trump’s chances in November.
The evidence of that is overwhelming. Pew Research Center polling breaks out responses to questions based on media diets. Asked last November how they felt about Trump, more than half of respondents overall said they were cold toward him. Among Republicans, 71 percent said they felt warmly about the president. Conservative Republicans were even more positive: 83 percent said they felt positively.
Mix in people who identified Fox News as their main source of political or election news, and the good vibes increase even further. Eighty-six percent of those whose main source of news is Fox said they feel warmly toward Trump. Among the Republicans in that group, 90 percent did — 19 points more than Republicans overall.
That holds on particular issues, too. Republicans who use Fox News as their main source of news were 18 points more likely than Republicans overall to say that Trump did nothing wrong in his interactions with Ukraine that led to his impeachment.
When the coronavirus pandemic emerged, so did the same pattern. Back in March, Fox-watching Republicans were 19 points more likely than Republicans overall to say that Trump was doing an “excellent” job handling the pandemic. Fully 95 percent of that group said that he was doing an excellent or good job.
Looking forward, Fox-watching Republicans were 21 points more likely than Republicans overall to say that they were very confident in Trump’s ability to handle the pandemic.
This isn’t a measure of likelihood to vote for Trump, certainly, but there’s clearly a link between viewership of the network and strong support for the president. Maybe that’s self-selected; maybe Trump’s most fervent fans are the ones who tune in to Fox. Regardless, the network’s coverage hasn’t damaged that support.
Last fall, PRRI asked poll respondents if there was anything Trump could do to earn or lose their support. No group included in the poll’s results was more likely to say that their support was all but unshakable than Republicans who saw Fox News as their primary news source.
It’s also clearly the case that Fox’s coverage of Trump is far more generous than other news outlets. The network has downplayed scandals, amplified misdirection, reinforced hobbyhorses and buried its own coverage of Democrats. If Fox News were to begin explicitly advocating the endorsement of Trump (as host Sean Hannity did in 2016), it’s not clear how things would change.
Trump obviously knows that Fox is extremely friendly territory. No other television network has been granted a fraction of the interviews that Fox News and Fox Business have received. When Trump wants to speak to the people without a filter, his first choices are either Twitter or Fox personalities.
Trump is also probably aware that his base of support is more loyal to him than to Fox. A recent poll from Monmouth University asked respondents whom they’d believe if Fox and Trump offered conflicting information on the coronavirus. Two-thirds of Republicans said they’d believe Trump.
This is theoretically why Trump attacks Fox on Twitter. He knows that he can potentially turn the network’s base of viewers against it, even to some small degree — perhaps putting pressure on advertisers from the other direction if viewership were to start to decline.
Theoretically, anyway. What’s more likely is that Trump, en route to Michigan for an event, was watching daytime Fox News and saw less overtly pro-Trump coverage than he’s used to seeing from the network’s prime time hosts. So he got mad and tweeted, unfiltered.
These are two tweets that the network is unlikely to amplify with approval — but only two.