I suspect much of the political world has ingrained impressions of the major cable news networks, and makes certain assumptions about the networks' audiences. With this in mind, a regular reader today flagged a McClatchy item from last week that I'd missed entirely, and it's worth a closer look.
The television remote control has become a de facto ballot in today's hyper-polarized world of politics.Turn the dial to the left to watch msnbc and it's more likely you lean left. Turn it to the right to tune in Fox, and it's more likely you lean right. Which cable news channel people watch has become a bona fide indicator of what they think about taxes, health care, immigration and the size and scope of the federal government, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
The article was published alongside this chart.
The ostensible point of the piece is that the American news-consuming public can effectively be divided three ways -- as if we can predict someone's political attitudes based in large part by which cable news network he or she turns on to keep up with current events.
But is the thesis confirmed or debunked by the McClatchy-Marist poll results? Look at the competing pie charts again. Notice the striking similarities between the opinions or msnbc viewers and CNN viewers? When it comes to concerns about government regulations, the results are literally identical, and on the question regarding taxes the poor, the results are nearly identical (well within the margin of error).
It would seem, then, that the larger takeaway isn't that a tri-polar media environment dominates American politics, but rather, that Fox News, catering to a Republican audience for the purpose of supporting the Republican Party, is throwing off the curve.
The thesis, in other words, is incomplete. The poll results are noteworthy, not because of a three-way split, but because the attitudes of Fox News are at odds with the American mainstream.