Sea change: Today, Americans are receiving their political news in vastly different ways.

pnWhere are Americans getting their political news in this very intensive Presidential election year?

There’s no question that the season is turning out to be a news bonanza, beginning with the string of debates featuring interesting and entertaining candidates and continuing on with near-nonstop political coverage on the cable networks.

And then there’s the endless chatter over on talk radio …

Recently, the Pew Research Center asked Americans where they’re receiving their political news. According to its just-issued report, Pew found that nine in ten American adults age 18+ typically consume some sort of news about the presidential election in any given week’s time.

When asked to cite which sources of information of political news are “most helpful,” here’s how the respondents answered:

  • Cable TV news: ~24% cited as the “most helpful” source of information
  • Local TV news: ~14%
  • Social media: ~14%
  • Website or apps: ~13%
  • Radio: ~11%
  • Network nightly news broadcasts: ~10%
  • Late-night comedy TV: ~3%
  • Local newspapers: ~3%
  • National newspapers: ~2%

Looking at this pecking order, several things stand out:

  • Even a few years ago, I doubt social media would have outstripped network TV or radio as a more helpful source of political news.
  • And look at where cable TV news is positioned — not only at the top of the list, but substantially above any other source of political information.
  • As for newspapers … even accounting for the fact that some websites or apps cited as helpful political news sources may actually be digital outlets for newspapers, newspapers’ position at the bottom of the list underscores their rapid loss of importance (and influence) in the political sphere. Aside from inflating a candidate’s own ego, who really cares about newspaper endorsements anymore?

Not surprisingly, the Pew research finds noticeable differences in the preference of political news sources depending on the age of the respondents. For instance, among respondents age 65+, here are the top four “most helpful” sources:

  • Cable TV news: ~43%
  • Network nightly news broadcasts: ~17%
  • Local TV news: ~10%
  • Local newspapers: ~6%

Contrast this with the very youngest respondents (age 18 to 29), where the two most helpful sources of information are social media (~35%) and websites or apps (~18%).

I’m sure readers have their own personal views as to which of the sources of political news are preferable in terms of their veracity. For some, social media and late-night TV comedy programs illustrate a general decline in the “quality” of the news, whereas others might look at radio programs or cable TV news in precisely the same negative terms.

More details on the Pew Research study can be found here.

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