One of our grantees, the Pew Research Center, just released another great report in its series exploring political polarization in the United States, and how that relates to government, society, and people’s personal lives.

This latest report, Political Polarization and Media Habits, explores what sources people turn to for news, which ones they trust (and which they don’t), who they tend to talk to about politics, and how all of this varies by ideology. The short answer is that ideology predicts a lot.

Several of Pew’s findings were not entirely surprising. For example:

  • Consistent conservatives are “tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.” They also “express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.”
  • Consistent liberals are “less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets [and] … express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.”


But a few things did surprise me:

  • That the Wall Street Journal is the only source more trusted than distrusted by all five of Pew’s ideological groupings.
  • That audiences for NPR (National Public Radio), PBS, the New York Times, and BBC are as liberal as Pew finds. I would’ve assumed liberal, but not that liberal.
  • That 45% of people hadn’t even heard of NPR
  • That so many more people get news from Facebook than from Twitter. I had assumed Facebook was maybe 2x more common, but it’s more like 4x (48% vs 9%)
  • That consistent liberals are “more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network—as well as to end a personal friendship—because of politics.” Forty-four percent of consistent liberals who use Facebook “say they have blocked someone on a social networking site because of a political post” (versus 31% of consistent conservatives). I would’ve assumed the practice was equally common (and much more rare).
  • That consistent conservatives report both talking about (68%) and “enjoying talking about” (81%) politics much more than consistent liberals (of whom only 57% talk about politics “at least a few times a week”, with only 69% reporting they enjoy it).



In short, the most ideologically extreme Americans have very different news consumption and discussion habits, many of which tend to reinforce their own belief systems. And of course those on the farther left and right ends of the spectrum, who together comprise about 20% of the public, have a greater impact on the political process—they vote much more, and are more likely to be driving the political conversation amongst their friends. “Nearly four in ten consistent conservatives (39%) and 30% of consistent liberals tend to drive political discussions. In other words, they talk about politics often, say others tend to turn to them for information rather than the reverse, and describe themselves as leaders rather than listeners in these kinds of conversations.”

The silver lining in Pew’s findings is that most Americans still do rely on an “array of outlets—with varying audience profiles—for political news. And many consistent conservatives and liberals hear dissenting political views in their everyday lives.” Figuring out how to encourage more of this could go a long way toward fixing our dysfunctional politics.