Andrea Lorenz, Carolyn Schmitt, Shannon McGregor, Daniel Malmer
Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media
(Research Summary by Katherine Furl)
Who in the United States consumes far-right news media, and what does this consumption mean for American democracy? In “CNN Can Kiss My As$,” Andrea Lorenz, Carolyn Schmitt, Shannon McGregor, and Daniel Malmer analyze survey responses from over 10,000 U.S. adults to determine the types of news they consume, how this consumption relates to political beliefs, and the implications of these trends for democracy in the United States.
Lorenz and coauthors distinguish between partisan media—which promote one political party over another and don’t adhere to journalistic norms of objectivity—and hyperpartisan media, which are more intensely partisan and often positioned outside mainstream media ecosystems. Though hyperpartisan media exist on both the political right and left, U.S. conservatives have moved toward the far right more than U.S. liberals have moved toward the far left. While far-right and far-left news media rely on populist narratives, far-right news media uniquely promote anti-Black racism, misogyny, and conspiracy theories endangering democracy; this relates to the ways partisan identities map onto other socially relevant identities and ideologies like race, religion, and anti-establishment beliefs. Content from far-right news media is also more likely to receive coverage from more mainstream outlets like Fox News than content from far-left news media, likely because “the U.S. boasts a more robust conservative media ecosystem than it does on the left.” These trends lead Lorenz and coauthors to investigate who in the United States is most likely to consume hyperpartisan, far-right media, and how that consumption may connect to potentially anti-democratic political beliefs in important ways.
Examining self-reported news consumption among over 10,000 U.S. adults in a representative survey, Lorenz and coauthors find:
- Only a small group of U.S. adults, roughly one in ten, self-report far-right or far-left news outlets among their top three preferred news sources. Within this small subset of the U.S. population, however, far-right outlets were about nine times more likely to be listed as preferred news sources than were far-left outlets.
- U.S. adults self-reporting far-right hyperpartisan outlets among their preferred news sources are demographically and ideologically homogenous. They are overwhelmingly white, male, aged 55 or older, and without a college degree; Christian, particularly either evangelical, born-again, or Mormon; ideologically conservative or Republican; and tend to live in rural areas. They are also more likely to hold anti-establishment beliefs than the general U.S. population, especially populist anti-establishment beliefs.
Lorenz and coauthors’ findings reveal how “patterns in hyperpartisan media usage demonstrate growing extremism, not polarization.” Consumption of hyperpartisan news is far from equivalently present along partisan lines. The tendency for far-right hyperpartisan outlets to spread disinformation, hate speech, and other content harmful to democracy—and for this content to be picked up by more mainstream, center-right news outlets broadcasting it to far wider audiences—must be considered when we think about the relationship between news media, consumers, partisanship, and the future or democracy.