David Zurawik

Fox News was voters' 'main source' for election news, says Pew

More voters got their election news from Fox than any other source, according to a Pew survey released today.

Pew found that 19 percent of all voters named Fox as their "main source" for news about the 2016 campaign in which Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.


That's all voters -- not just voters who wound up voting for Trump.

When you look only at Trump voters, the numbers tell an even more powerful story about the role of Fox News and cable TV, in general, in American politics. Pew found that 40 percent of Trump voters said Fox News was their main source for election news.


CNN came in second with all voters -- named by 13 percent as their main source of election news. That's a pretty strong showing by CNN. It was also the second most popular choice among Trump voters with 8 percent.

Among Clinton voters, CNN was the top choice with 18 percent. That doubled the 9 percent for MSNBC, which was the second most popular choice among those who voted for the former secretary of state.

But even if you combine CNN and MSNBC, you still only have 27 percent of Clinton viewers getting their information from those two channels, while Fox had 40 percent of Trump voters.

That has to have been an advantage for Trump. But as monolithic as Fox can be when it comes to ideology, there was more than one message about the businessman being sounded in prime time on the channel. Megyn Kelly, who recently left Fox to join NBC, was one of the channel's highest rated nightly shows as well as one of Trump's toughest critics.

Facebook, which came under heavy fire near the end of the election for its lack of editorial control over fake news, finished third across the board -- getting 8 percent with all voters and Clinton voters, and 7 percent with those who voted for Trump.

Local TV finished fourth with all voters being named by 7 percent.

By comparison, NPR was named by 4 percent, while the New York Times and local newspapers were cited by only 3 percent (each) as their main source of election news.

While the divide among Clinton and Trump voters is considerable and a cause for concern, the practice of voters opting to stay within their own cones of political belief and tuning out anything that might cause cognitive dissonance has been widely documented.


What I see here is the overwhelming dominance of cable TV channels as the primary channel of political information -- particularly Fox.

With all the entertainment values that have come to drive cable news coverage in a search for ratings, that's a major issue.

I also have to note the staying power of TV as the principle storyteller and conduit of information in American life.

One of the "key findings" identified by Pew involved what respondents said -- or didn't say -- about digital sites.

"The digital news publishers that played prominent roles in the campaign did not appear to serve as main news sources for either Trump or Clinton voters. This notably includes Breitbart (named by 1% of voters), an early supporter of Trump's campaign; BuzzFeed (named by no voters in our sample), which broke a number of stories over the course of the election; and The Huffington Post (named by 1% of voters)... "

More information on the survey from Pew can be found here.