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“When you spend time consuming media that already agrees with your viewpoint, you’re really just listening to yourself.”

Barry Hollander
Grady College of Journalism







Study finds news viewers
fragmented by party

By Sam Fahmy


Television news audiences are divided along party lines like never before, according to a new UGA study, and this trend may have damaging consequences for American political discourse and democracy.

Barry Hollander, associate professor of journalism in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, analyzed five national telephone surveys conducted from 1998 to 2006 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. He found that in 1998, 14 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Democrats watched Fox News regularly. But by 2006, 36 percent of Republicans watched Fox News regularly, compared to just 19 percent of Democrats.

elephant and donkey on couchThe trend for CNN over the same period showed a significant decline in exposure to CNN for Republicans—from 27 percent to 19 percent—while Democrats remained fairly stable, with exposure rates of 25 percent in 1988 and 29 percent in 2006.
“Republicans have dramatically dropped news sources that they perceive as being biased against their position,” Hollander said. “They’ve been fleeing to Fox while leaving behind CNN, broadcast news, and all the other sources, including CSPAN, which is raw content.”

In addition to finding that news audiences are fragmented along party lines, Hollander’s study, published in the spring 2008 issue of the Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, found that individuals who do not identify strongly with either the Republican or Democratic parties are watching less news altogether. Hollander said this finding is not surprising, given that the average consumer now has more than 100 channels to watch.

“What we are seeing now is the natural product of technology allowing people who never really have been interested in the news to find something else to do with their time,” he said. “And what’s left is a fairly partisan red-state/blue-state news audience.”

Hollander suggested that the heightened partisanship of news audiences encourages networks to cater to their viewers’ political preferences, which in turn is likely to accelerate the trend further. Fox’s model of appealing to conservative audiences through commentators such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity is “obvious and overt,” said Hollander, while CNN’s efforts to appeal to more liberal audiences is reflected in its own offerings. For example, CNN spent an inordinate amount of time covering the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Previous studies have shown that viewers who are not regular consumers of news are less likely to vote, meaning that the voting public is largely composed of partisans who get their information from news sources that reflect their beliefs.

“When you spend time consuming media that already agrees with your viewpoint, you’re really just listening to yourself,” Hollander said. “And we know from other research that the more you hear your views echoed and reinforced, the more extreme they can become. That changes how politicians appeal to voters, the news coverage of electoral politics, and probably the kind of candidates we get.”

For more information, contact Barry Hollander at:


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