In our two polls each of 1,500 respondents in the United States and the United Kingdom on Monday the 23rd of March, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies decided to take a look how respondents consume media. In particular, we wanted to know the extent to which respondents admitted to deliberately choosing to follow or not follow certain news outlets due to their political leanings. Quite surprisingly, we found significant differences between all countries.
In Europe, a majority of respondents to our polls in France, Spain and Italy said they did not choose which media to follow based on political leanings.
In the United States and United Kingdom, by contrast, a majority of respondents did admit to following or not following news outlets due to the outlets’ political leanings.
Looking at past votes, there was no difference between those respondents who voted for Trump in 2016 and those who voted for Hillary Clinton as to whether they said they did or did not follow certain media and news outlets based on the outlets’ political leanings.
In the United Kingdom, however, those who voted for the Conservative Party in December 2019 were less likely to say they followed news outlets based on their political leanings. This difference may, in part, be due to the significant majority captured by the Conservative Party in that election, whereby the Tories captured a large, ‘moderate’ section of the public. Those who still voted for Labour or the Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, may be of the more politically ‘hardcore’ type. That may be a troubling sign for the opposition parties, as it suggests that their supporters draw primarily from those who are in a certain news and media bubble.
After political background, another significant correlating factor in the United Kingdom is age. The younger generation is more likely to say they pick news outlets based on the outlets’ political leanings. Is this the sign of a greater close-mindedness among the young? Or are the young simply bold enough to admit their selection biases? Again, in the United States, we do not see this difference among generations.
Taking a closer look at those who admit to this type of selection, those in GB said they were somewhat also more likely to primarily get their news from social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit) or a newspaper subscription (including online) compared to those who did not admit to this type of selection of news sources.
In the United States, there is no meaningful difference between type of media consumption and whether they are politically savvy in which media they follow. Yet, we do see, as in the UK, that generations get their news from different types of sources, with the younger generations primarily receiving their news from social media.
What may explain these differences between the United Kingdom and the United States is the extent to which television media is politicised. In the UK, there is no news channel roughly similar to Fox News, whereas in the United States, there is no news channel quite like the publicly funded BBC.
Both those in the US and in the UK may call this a triumph. In the US, the creation of Fox News in the 1990s was seen a welcome disruption on the right. Without it, certain political ideas may have never surfaced. In the UK, while many have challenged the ‘impartiality’ of television news outlets, others take pride in that there is any such standard at all.
In any case, both countries show a high degree of politicised news coverage. Such a difference in the filter through which different segments of the population learn about and interpret the latest events is unlikely to be helpful in bringing these polarised societies together.