Epistemic Closure Watch

Media Polarization

Pew looks at how conservatives and liberals consume their news:

When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust. And whether discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely than others to interact with like-minded individuals, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

John Avlon is distressed:

A few decades ago, politicians sent talking points to talk radio hosts. Today, talk radio hosts and online echo-chamber pundits send talking points to politicians. They keep their readers and listeners addicted to anger. The durable wisdom of the late, great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan—“everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts”—gets discarded when people come to political debates armed with their own facts.

Justin Elis’ take is more nuanced:

On their face, these findings might seem to lend support to the idea that we’re becoming a country of smaller and smaller filter bubbles, personalized universes of news and people that fit our own interests. But the connection between how Americans get news and their political polarization is not black and white.

Pew found that on Facebook, the majority of people only see political posts they agree with some of the time. That’s also reflected in the real world, as Pew found people on all ends of the political spectrum tend to get a mix of dissent and agreement on politics in their every day life. 58 percent of consistent liberals and 45 percent of consistent conservatives say they often get agreement and disagreement in their conversations on politics. For people with mixed political views — Pew’s middle ideological category — that jumps up to 76 percent.

Christopher Ingraham makes note of the least trusted outlets:

Overall, four of the top five least-trusted news outlets have a strong conservative lean: Limbaugh, Fox News, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. MSNBC rounds out the list. The most trusted news outlets, on the other hand, tend to be major TV networks: CNN, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, with Fox at No. 5.

The Pew Study notes that “liberals, overall, trust a much larger mix of news outlets than others do. Of the 36 different outlets considered, 28 are more trusted than distrusted by consistent liberals.” By contrast, among conservatives “there are 24 sources that draw more distrust than trust.”

On the topic of distrust, Kilgore highlights a telling detail:

BuzzFeed has the dubious distinction of being more distrusted than trusted among every single ideological category. Pretty impressive for a relatively “young” site, eh?

Congrats, sponsored content. Update from a reader:

As a grad student who has studied polarization, the Pew study isn’t all that surprising (although it is very useful in confirming what many have long assumed.)  I think it may be time, however, to challenge a long-standing assertion of polarization studies.  As Bill Bishop has argued in The Big Sort, Americans seem to be increasingly segregating themselves along partisan/ideological lines.  Not only are our neighbors more likely than before to share our political views, but we also are probably consuming the same kinds of political news and cultural products.  This extends to Facebook as well.  Some people argue this creates an “echo chamber” that merely reinforces our political beliefs.  In other words, the more Fox News we listen to, the more conservative we become.

But I wonder if there isn’t an opposite effect going on as well.  The proliferation of media outlets also makes it easier for us to bump into dissenting views.  Unlike the 1950s-1980s, when there was one monopolistic media establishment that kept the heated rhetoric toned down, now there are many outlets, giving us all greater opportunity to encounter viewpoints that we find abhorrent and that we can’t believe others harbor.  Facebook didn’t so much create an echo chamber as expose us to the private opinions of people we previously assumed were “sane” in their opinions.  Consuming partisan news isn’t so much about finding the truth as it is like running for cover in a crazy world.

Another reader:

So according to that graph you posted, Liberals “are more likely to defriend someone on a social networking site because of politics”. Boy has this been true in my own experience (I’m about as far right politically as it’s possible to be). I have had significant disagreements with old and new friends alike on Facebook and Twitter over the past few years, and I have never once defriended anyone, and my conservative friends (at least the ones I’m closest to) have not done so either. But I most certainly have been told off and immediately defriended by some left-leaning friends over one relatively simple disagreement or the other.

Anecdotal yes, but I think it’s probably true in general that there is little room for disagreement allowed, and certainly less tolerance, for differing opinions on the left than on the right. Your graph and the source would seem to validate this as well. I assume that this comes from the self-righteousness and extreme confidence that modern progressives have that they are sole arbiters of truth and justice, with sole claim to the mantle of righteousness, much like they have (many times accurately) portrayed the right to be from days past. To me this point is beyond dispute: there is MUCH less tolerance for differing opinions and beliefs on the left than there is on the right today. The left is simply blind to the deep strains of religious bigotry of many in their ranks, if nothing else.

And another:

I think it’s probably worth noting that liberals are more likely to defriend conservatives over politics, but the chances are good that they weren’t very close friends in the first place (although you can find many laments over the end of long-term friendships on the left, often precipitated by relatively mild pushback and a stream of abuse in response). I’m from the Deep South originally, and of course everyone back there “knows” that Obama is a Muslim socialist, because between Fox and talk radio and right-wing churches and the NRA, that’s what all self-described respectable, well-informed people hear (plus, Democrats are the party of black people, who are widely seen as lazy, violent, and ignorant). I effectively defriended almost everyone there many years ago when I left; social media allowed for at-arms-length reconnections without my having to pretend that I had any interest in the ideology or institutions it was such a relief to leave.

FWIW, I just hide the crazies, and have been defriended a couple of times by conservatives (one a relative to whom I used to be close) even though I’m rarely aggressively political except in political fora or among like-minded acquaintances. The truth is that a) I don’t always want to know what people are thinking about important issues, and b) I do think less of political conservatives, because I consider it a mean, regressive, often self-serving inclination in practice. That’s why I left an area in which it is so unquestioned … and a state that uncoincidentally ranks at or near the bottom of every quality-of-life measure.