A new poll by Daily Kos/Research 2000 explores some interesting, but not entirely surprising, viewing patterns for the three top cable news networks. The poll’s most revealing results are those that break out party affiliation and regional viewing.
Overall, 25% of respondents watch Fox News at least once a week. That number includes 23% of Democrats and 14% of Independents. The obvious partisan standout is Republicans with 52% watching at least once a week. Similarly, regional viewing is heavily weighted to the south with 39% of southerners tuning in to Fox News. The rest of the nation is far less attracted to the right-wing network who draws significantly fewer viewers from the west (23%), the midwest (21%), and the northeast (13%). Also notable is the dismal performance of Fox amongst young voters (18-29) and minorities, at least 80% of whom report that they never watch Fox News. In fact, more than 50% of all of the groups of viewers (party, region, ethnicity, age) never watch Fox News, except for Republicans (38%).
Republicans and southerners are also the most sharply segmented groups in the survey when queried on viewing of CNN and MSNBC. An examination of the data shows that these two groups almost completely shut out any news source other than Fox News. To be sure, Democrats favor MSNBC and, to a lesser extent CNN, in greater numbers than other demographic breakouts, but the disparity is nowhere near as great as that for Republicans and southerners.
These numbers are essentially repeated when the question turns from viewing habits to perceptions of accuracy. The only significant variance is in the “not sure” column. For those who reported being unsure with regard to accuracy, both CNN and Fox had percentages in the low twenties. MSNBC, however, reported 60% not sure. This number probably reflects the lower distribution of MSNBC on cable outlets nationally.
The bottom line is that Republicans and the south occupy a very different country than the rest of us do. This party and regional divergence could not be more pronounced. It suggests that a case could be made that the Civil War was not a particularly constructive event. The consequence of this discord is that neither the conservative south, nor the more progressive north, west, and east, are being represented very well. Previous studies have shown these same distinctions on policy questions like health care and opinions on whether the President was a natural born U.S. citizen.
This new poll is a useful glimpse into cable news viewing habits, but I would still like to see what a Nielsen survey would show. There is ample evidence that Fox is a predominately regional network whose viewers are clustered in the south. With Nielsen data to confirm this, advertisers might alter the way they allocate their budgets. Also, cable operators might adjust their channel offerings, which could help to resolve the distribution problem that MSNBC has been hampered by.
It is truly a shame that the majority of the country is being held hostage by a minority that is pushing a Dark Ages platform that opposes universal health care, civil rights, tax fairness, and environmental protection. And it compounds the shame that an overtly biased cable news network is artificially elevated in a manner that inflates its clout so that it can further distort the political landscape.
However, one other thing needs to be taken from this survey. The numbers of respondents who say they never watch any of the cable news nets (averaging over 2/3) affirms my long held belief that far too much is made of what these networks do and say. The total viewership in primetime for the whole bunch is less than 2% of the American population. Putting that into perspective should give analysts pause when attributing any significance to what is said on cable news.