A new Pew Research Center report looks back across more than 50 analyses and more than 580 survey questions from the Center’s yearlong American News Pathways project and finds that, throughout a tumultuous year, Americans were consistently and dramatically divided around the election and COVID-19 pandemic based on their sources of news and information.
From November 2019 through November 2020, the Pathways project explored how Americans’ news habits and attitudes related to what they heard, perceived and knew about the 2020 presidential election and COVID-19. The project was based on 10 surveys of about 9,000 or more U.S. adults each, conducted using the Center’s American Trends Panel, an online, nationally representative panel of U.S. adults, with questions and responses made available to the public in an interactive data tool.
This concluding Pathways report highlights key findings in five areas of discovery. Among them:
- Evidence pointing to media “echo chambers” on the left and the right, and a new analysis of the Americans who consistently turned to these echo chambers over the course of the study.
- About a quarter of Republicans and Democrats consistently turned to “partisan news media bubbles.” Overall, 24% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents consistently turned only to sources with right-leaning audiences in at least two of three Pathways surveys, and 25% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents chose only outlets with left-leaning audiences in at least two of the three surveys. Another 48% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans consistently used sources with audiences that are politically mixed (e.g., the ABC, CBS, or NBC TV networks) or that tilt toward the other end of the political spectrum in at least two of the three surveys.
- Just under half of these Republicans who consistently turned only to sources with right-leaning audiences are ages 65 and older; among Democrats, consistent use of sources with left-leaning audiences varied by race and education. There are stark age differences among Republicans with different media diets. The group of Republicans that consistently turned only to outlets with like-minded audiences is much older: 79% are ages 50 and older, while just 4% of the group are 18 to 29. Meanwhile, those Democrats who consistently turned to news outlets with left-leaning audiences were more likely to be highly educated (about six-in-ten U.S. adults in this group have college degrees, including about a third – 34% – with postgraduate degrees) and more likely to be White (71% were). Democrats who consistently turned to outlets with mixed or right-leaning audiences are more likely than other media diet groups among Democrats to be made up of Black (29%) adults.