Analysis finds that white evangelicals prefer Fox News, while Hindus, Muslims watch CNN

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An analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute has found that Fox News has an “outsized influence” over Americans, and white evangelicals especially.

The nonprofit’s report, which was actually released shortly after the 2020 election and surveyed more than 2,500 U.S. adults, noted that around 15 percent of Americans said Fox News is their most trusted source, which was about the same as broadcast networks ABC, CBS, and NBC combined, and 4 points higher than cable news competitor CNN.

In addition, according to the organization’s findings, Fox News viewers also tend to be religious, and that is especially true of self-identified Republicans who watch the network. Only around 5 percent of Fox News viewers said they identified as “religiously unaffiliated” in comparison with 15 percent of Republicans who don’t watch the network and 25 percent of the larger American public.

“To further explore the relationship between different faiths and the TV news they associate with as part of my research on religion data, I analyzed the result of another survey, the Cooperative Election Survey,” wrote Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of Political Science at Eastern Illinois University, for The Conversation.

The annual survey, released just ahead of last year’s elections — with results released in March of this year — queried 61,000 Americans about a range of topics, one of which pertained to how they consumed news. The survey specifically asked respondents to identify which news outlets they had watched in the previous 24 hours.

“Some very interesting patterns emerged across religious traditions – and the nonreligious – and the type of media being consumed. For instance, of the big three legacy news operations – ABC, CBS and NBC – there was no strong base of viewership in any tradition,” Burge wrote.

“In most cases, about a third of people from each religious tradition said that they watched one of those legacy networks in the last 24 hours. PBS scored very low among every tradition. In most cases fewer than 15% of respondents reported watching PBS in the time frame,” he added.

But, the political science professor noted, numbers for the big three cable outlets — Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN — were broadly much higher. For eight of the 16 religious and nonreligious traditions that the survey categorized, CNN was chosen by at least 50 percent, led by 71 percent of Hindu adherents and 63 percent of Muslims.

Burge noted further: “The least likely group to watch CNN was clearly white evangelicals, at just 23%. In comparison, MSNBC scored lower nearly across the board. In fact, in none of the 16 classification groups was viewership of MSNBC greater than it was for CNN.”

He went on to note that, based on the data, viewership for Fox News was higher than it was for MSNBC but “not as widely dispersed as it is for CNN.”

That isn’t surprising, wrote Burge, that 61 percent of white evangelicals watch Fox News because of its right-leaning hosts and content. In the 2020 election, then-President Donald Trump received roughly 80 percent of the vote from white evangelicals.

“The other three traditions where viewership was at least 50% are white Catholics, Mormons and members of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It should come as no surprise, as those are three groups that consistently vote for the Republican Party,” Burge added. “Just 14% of atheists watched Fox, which is just about in line with the share of white evangelicals who watch MSNBC.”

And partisan news consumption is only likely to continue in the future, he said, due to the growing tribalism of the country, meaning news outlets will continue to tailor their content.

“Given the vast number of news options that people of faith have and the increase in political polarization in the United States, the pressure for networks to deliver the news that people want to hear will only increase as time passes,” he concluded.

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