Thursday, February 25, 2021

Pew report on how Americans got news about 2020 election and pandemic illustrates a deepening partisan divide

A newly published report from Pew Research Center showing how Americans navigated news about the presidential election and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 shows a deepening partisan divide. 

The American News Pathways project "finds there have consistently been dramatic divides between different groups of Americans based on where people get their information about what is going on in the world," Pew reports. "For example, Republicans who looked to former President Donald Trump for their news about the 2020 election or the coronavirus pandemic were more likely to believe false or unproven claims about these events. And while Americans widely agree that misinformation is a major problem, they do not see eye to eye about what actually constitutes misinformation. In many cases, one person’s truth is another’s fiction."

Some of the findings from the study, conducted from November 2019 through December 2020:
  • About a quarter of Democrats and Republicans consistently got their news from "partisan news media bubbles" with audiences of like-minded people.
  • Those who got their news only from such echo chambers were generally more ideological than others in their parties, and more likely to hear about and believe false or unproven claims.
  • Just under half of Republicans who got their news from echo-chamber sources are 65 and older.
  • Trump was a major source of election and/or pandemic news for 32% of Republicans and conservative independents. People who relied on Trump for information were more likely than other Republicans to think the pandemic was overblown, more likely to believe voter fraud was a significant threat to election integrity, and more likely to believe the news media had covered both issues poorly.
  • In November 2019, the vast majority of Americans surveyed said they were "very" (48%) or "somewhat" (34%) worried about the impact of fake news on the election. Liberals and conservatives were equally concerned about this. A year later, 60% of respondents said they felt fake news had had a major impact on the election.
  • Overall, older Americans, people who paid more attention to the news, and people with greater knowledge of politics were more worried than average about the impact of fake news.
  • People who relied mostly on social media for political news were less likely to worry about the impact of fake news.
  • What people deemed "fake news" varied widely; many identified factual news as fake because it didn't fit with their perceptions of reality.
  • News diets within parties played a big role in commonly held partisan beliefs. That phenomenon was more pronounced among Republicans because they tended to rely on a smaller mix of news outlets (especially Fox News and talk radio).
  • About 18% of people surveyed said in November 2019 that they relied mainly on social media for political news. Such respondents were the youngest group overall by far, with nearly half under age 30 (compared to 21% of respondents who get their news from news websites or apps, for example). People who relied primarily on social media for news were also less likely to be white.
  • Social media was a major source of news for many Americans, but it was not widely trusted by Republicans or Democrats.
  • Those who got their news mostly from social media were less likely to pay attention to other news sources such as print or cable TV, less likely than most others to be knowledgeable about current events, and more likely to have heard unproven claims and theories.
  • Similar percentages of liberals and conservatives paid attention to pandemic news coverage in March 2020. In late November, liberals reported about the same numbers, but far fewer conservatives were paying attention to the news.
  • Over 2020, Republicans perceptions shifted on pandemic-related issues. They generally paid less attention to news coverage, became more critical of the news media, and grew more likely to say the pandemic was being exaggerated. They also appeared to have less favorable views about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public-health officials. Democrats responses on those issues remained largely unchanged over 2020.

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