The Fox News Bubble

By John Ray (@johnlray)

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting Fox News viewers are uniquely conservative compared to the general American electorate. Recent research has indicated that Fox News played a causal role in the rightward lurch of the Republican Party. Here, we present some survey data on voters’ Fox News-watching habits and on their political attitudes. Across a variety of political and cultural attitudes, Republicans who report getting their news from Fox are significantly to the right of Republicans who don’t.

In the run-up to the November, 2018 election we fielded a survey of 3,215 US voters and asked, among other things, where they got their news from.

Specifically, we asked respondents,

In the past week, did you get news from any of the following sources? Please select all that apply:
<1 > CNN
<2> Fox News
<3> MSNBC
<4> Other Cable News TV Networks
<5> Local TV News
<6> National nightly network TV news
<7> News websites or apps
<8> Your local daily print newspaper
<9> National print newspapers
<10> News on the radio
<11> Late night comedy shows
<12> Facebook
<13> Twitter
<14> Reddit
<15> YouTube
<16> Other social media such as LinkedIn, Instagram, or Snapchat
<17> None of these

And respondents could select as many as applied, unless they selected “none of these.” Across the full sample, 34 percent of voters reported getting their news from Fox News (fortunately, only 2 percent of voters reported only getting their news from Fox). Among Republicans, however, fully 62 percent reported getting news from Fox.

While Republican respondents generally report identifying as conservative or very conservative overall, more Fox News viewers identify as “very conservative” (48 percent) than “conservative” (45 percent). The opposite is true of Republicans who don’t watch Fox News, with 47 percent identifying as conservative and just 30 percent identifying as very conservative. Republicans who don’t watch Fox News more often identify as moderate, with 17 percent of non-Fox viewing Republicans identifying as moderate compared to just 6 percent of Fox News-viewing Republicans.

 
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Our survey (full dataset available here) also included a variety of policy items, which voters could either strongly support, somewhat support, neither support nor oppose, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose. We also included items on culture, guns, race relations, and others. Along pretty much every dimension, Fox News Republicans and non-Fox News Republicans stand apart.

For example, while Republicans of all stripes clearly favor the status quo on gun regulations, Republicans who watch Fox are split between whether there should be more gun control or less gun control. Republicans who don’t watch Fox clearly prefer more gun control to less. Forty-nine percent of Republican Fox viewers prefer the status quo on guns, and are split 26 percent-23 percent on wanting more gun control or less. In contrast, 39 percent of non-Fox Republicans want more gun control, compared to just 17 percent who want less.

 
GUNSbyfoxnews3.png
 

Indeed, there are several progressive policies that are popular across the political spectrum that Fox and non-Fox Republicans are clearly split on. For example, we asked voters,

Would you support or oppose a tax on wealth greater than $100 million?

Some will be surprised to learn that this issue is broadly popular across the political spectrum. Fox Republicans are narrowly split, however, with 43 percent somewhat or strongly supporting such a tax, and 42 percent somewhat or strongly opposing it. In contrast, non-Fox Republicans overwhelmingly support the wealth tax, by a 53-25 margin.

 
WEALTHbyfoxnews3.png
 

The same is roughly true for the most popular progressive policy we polled in November 2018, the Green New Deal’s jobs component:

Would you support or oppose giving every unemployed American who wants one a job building energy-efficient infrastructure?

As has been reported based on our other work, such a policy remains popular when we include information about how much the Green New Deal might cost and how the government might pay for it. But there is a roughly 10 percentage point gap between Fox and non-Fox Republicans’ view of such a program, with 48 percent of Fox Republicans and 57 percent of non-Fox Republicans supporting it.

 
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Republicans are similarly split by Fox News viewership on less well-known progressive policy proposals. Across all voters in our survey, for example, 47 percent of voters support ending the practice of cash bail (a policy championed by, among others, Presidential hopeful Cory Booker) but fully 26 percent of voters either had no opinion or hadn’t heard of the idea. Among Republicans, though, Fox News viewers are clearly opposed by a 30-42 percent margin. Non-Fox Republicans are nearly the opposite, supporting the policy 35-29, though more non-Fox Republicans are undecided as well.

 
BAIL_itembyfoxnews3.png
 

While Republicans in general are clearly opposed to political correctness, that opposition is significantly stronger among Fox News viewers. We asked voters,

There's been a lot of talk lately about "political correctness." Some people think that the way people talk needs to change with the times to be more sensitive to people from different backgrounds. Others think that this has already gone too far and many people are just too easily offended. Which is closer to your opinion?

<1> People are much too easily offended

<2> The way people talk needs to change a little

<3> The way people talk needs to change a lot

<4> People are a little too easily offended

Opinion among Republicans was unequivocal, with 90% of Republicans overall agreeing that people are “a little too easily offended” or “much too easily offended.” Overall, 92% of Fox News-viewing Republicans felt that way, as did 87% of non-Fox News viewing Republicans. The share of Fox News-viewing Republicans who think people are much too easily offended, however, is clearly different from the share of non-Fox News-viewing Republicans, at 82 percent versus just 70 percent.

 
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Similarly, while Republicans generally score higher on measures of racial animus than other voting groups, there is some difference between Fox News and non-Fox News Republicans. Our survey included a variety of items from the social science literature on racial animus, among them:

(After being asked, “Please indicate the extent to which you agree with each of the following statements,” followed by a list of statements of this kind): White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.

To which voters could report strongly agreeing, somewhat agreeing, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, somewhat disagreeing, strongly disagreeing, or being unsure. Social scientists who study this topic consider disagreement with this option to be an indicator of higher levels of racial animus.

While Republicans generally disagreed with this statement, Fox News and non-Fox News Republicans diverged. While 64 percent of Fox News Republicans disagreed, just 53 percent of non-Fox Republicans did so. Non-Fox Republicans did not necessarily agree with the statement at much higher levels, being more split between agreeing and being unsure.

 
INSTITUTIONbyfoxnews3.png
 

Automatic voter registration (AVR) is one of the main planks of HR1 in the new Congress, and some recent work shows AVR is an effective means of increasing voter participation but has been attacked as a “power grab” by longtime voter suppression beneficiary Mitch McConnell. In our survey, we asked voters,

Would you support or oppose a policy where all eligible US citizens would be automatically registered to vote (unless they opt out) when applying for licenses and other IDs at DMVs, Medicaid offices, healthcare exchanges and other public agencies?

Overall, 59 percent of voters somewhat or strongly approved of AVR. But that number calls to just 32 percent of Fox News-viewing Republicans and 42 percent of non-Fox viewing Republicans (which is about 35 percent of Republican voters overall). While Fox News Republicans clearly oppose AVR by a 32-55 margin, non-Fox Republicans narrowly support AVR, by a 42-37 margin.

 
AVRbyfoxnews3.png
 

But isn’t a lot of this simply selection? It is unlikely Fox News viewers differ from non-Fox viewers beyond just policy attitudes. The average Republican voter who watches Fox News is significantly older (63 years) than those who do not (56 years), for example, and have fewer years of education on average. About 37 percent of Republican voters who watch Fox have a college degree, compared with about 44 percent of those who do not.

To control for these factors, we can include Fox viewership in a multivariate model that allows us to control for these other factors. For example,we can scale the gun control item so that higher values indicate higher opposition to gun control (i.e., the “conservative” position), and then run a regression model including Fox News viewership alongside age, race, education, sex, ideology, income, and geography. In that model, higher values indicate a higher correlation between that variable and opposition to gun control.

In the following chart, for example, we see that, within Republicans, the correlation between watching Fox and opposing gun control is positive. Because the confidence interval of the estimated correlation is above zero, we can be reasonably confident that the correlation really is positive and not a statistical fluke (this does not tell us about causality, of course). The magnitude of the coefficient is about as strong and positive as the coefficient on gender is strong and negative. In other words, the correlation between watching Fox News and opposing gun control is about as strong as the correlation between being a male and ones’ opinion on gun control. As the estimate for ideology is much higher, though, we can also say that the effect of self-reported political ideology and views on gun control is higher than both.

 
GUNS_mod1.png
 

Indeed, if we look among all voters and include another control variable for party ID, we still see that Fox News viewership is quite strong. The estimate is above zero, including both ends of the confidence interval associated with the estimate.

Indeed, in the case of gun control, the effect of Fox News viewership on opposition to gun control is statistically indistinguishable from the effect of being a Republican. In other words, even considering your age, sex, race, income, ideology, et cetera, if I wanted to know your opinion on gun control, I would be just as well off asking you if you were a Republican or if you were a Fox News viewer in terms of being able to predict your stance on guns. Both are significant and positive predictors of opposing gun control. From previous work on this subject this may be unsurprising as gun control is surprisingly popular across the political spectrum, but party ID is known to be the central cleavage in American politics. Watching Fox News is clearly another such cleavage.

 
GUNS_mod2.png
 

Indeed, if we run similar models for each of our policy items, Fox News viewership pops as a significant predictor of opposition to pretty much every progressive policy we asked about. Our survey included policies like

  • “Abolish ICE”

  • Automatic voter registration (AVR)

  • Ending cash bail

  • Ending America’s role in Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen

  • A green jobs program

  • Gun control

  • Amnesty for past marijuana arrests if marijuana were legalized at the Federal level

  • A new tax on wealth over $100 million

  • Political correctness

  • Drug testing welfare recipients

For each, we scaled responses so that the “conservative” position was higher, i.e., a positive coefficient indicates more support for drug testing welfare recipients, whereas a higher value for a new wealth tax is coded to represent more opposition to such a tax. The following plot shows the correlation between each of these policies and Fox News viewership, each from their own model including the same demographic and political controls as the previous model.

allcoefs1.png


And if we run those models on all voters, including the same demographics plus a control variable for party ID, we mostly see the same thing. While the coefficient on ending cash bail is not statistically significant, even controlling for party ID and a host of other demographics, watching Fox News is correlated with opposing the progressive agenda. These coefficients come from models that include the same set of demographic controls as above.

 
allcoefs2.png
 

Even among Republican voters, Fox News viewers exhibit preferences further to the right than those of other groups. Fox News viewers are to the right not just on policy, but on social and cultural attitudes as well. This apparently remains the case even controlling for other factors that may differentiate Fox News-viewing Republicans from those who don’t.

Fox News is the number one news source for Republican voters. In our sample, we found that 62 percent of Republicans reported getting their news from Fox News (as did 36 percent of Independents and 10 percent of Democrats). More Republican voters get their news from Fox than from local TV news (51 percent), newspaper websites or apps (35 percent), the radio (35 percent), from what they see on Facebook (39 percent) or on Twitter (11 percent). There is a growing body of evidence suggesting Fox plays an important role in the promulgation of radical conservative ideology. Those who get their news from Fox are considerably right to the rest of the American electorate, including to their co-partisans.


John Ray (@johnlray) is a Senior Political Analyst at YouGov Blue and a Senior Adviser to Data for Progress.

On behalf of Data for Progress, YouGov Blue fielded an online survey between October 27 and November 7, 2018 of a nationally representative sample of 3,215 respondents. The overall survey margin of error was +/- 2 percent. The sample was weighted to the 2018 electorate using a registered voter frame.

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