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Horowitz: Trump & Clinton Voters Live in Different Media Worlds

Tuesday, February 07, 2017


Fox News was the main source of election news for 4-in-10 Trump voters, but for only 3-in-100 Clinton voters, according to a large scale poll recently released by Pew Research Center. On the other hand, while nearly 1-in-10 Clinton voters say their main source of elections news was MSNBC, this was the case for only 1-in-100 Trump voters.

Pew found a similar divide in news websites regularly visited by Trump and Clinton voters. Eleven percent of Trump voters regularly visited Breitbart during the election, for example, while only 1% of Clinton voters did so. On the other hand, nearly 1-in-4 Clinton voters regularly visited Huffington Post as compared to less than 1-in-10 Trump voters who did the same.

Continuing a well-established trend, Trump and Clinton voters, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans live in different media worlds—ones where their existing views are catered to and reinforced. This fundamental characteristic of today’s niche media is one of the major contributors to the rabid partisanship and demonization of people with whom we disagree that pervades our politics. 

Research shows that when you are mainly exposed to people and information that shares your world-view you become more extreme in your positions and more convinced that you are right. 

Our ability and understandable desire to select media which reflects our ideology and opinion, rather than challenging it, is amplified by the fact that most people now live in neighborhoods dominated by people with similar views. People don’t decide where to live based on politics, but because liberals tend to prefer the amenities and lifestyle available in urban areas and conservatives tend to want the larger houses and more land, available in the further out suburbs, these location decisions in a nation where more than 1-in-10 people move every year has created what Bill Bishop has aptly labeled the ‘Big Sort,' dramatically increasing the number of landslide counties.  “America is hiving," wrote Bishop.

In the old mass media age, where 1-out-of-2 households sat down each night and watched one of the then-three major network broadcast news shows. we generally received our information from the same sources, which provided a common factual starting point for political conversation and discussion.  In an era, where as CBS Chair Les Moonves famously said, ‘there are no more Voice of God anchors,” we are consuming news and information that not only reflects very different views of the world, but often emphasizes its own distorted set of facts to back up those views.  And this is before we even get to the amount of deliberately false information distributed.

The result is that too often we are talking past each other, which makes the forging of consensus or principled compromise so essential to a functioning democracy, increasingly difficult to come by.  This will not be fixed easily.  But the sheer amount of information at our finger-tips, which provides each of us with the capacity to fairly easily do our own fact-checking and to move past our comfort zones and read and watch people with whom we disagree,  puts the solution in all of our hands. Simply put, it is up to all of us to do the hard work of democracy, which requires leaving our ideological cul-de-sacs and listening to well-meaning people with a different view from our own.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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