Divergent Media Diets Drive Partisan Divides Ahead of Election

The One Franklin Square Building, home of The Washington Post. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CN) — Disinformation and conspiracy theories are the sources of some of the deepest disagreements between Republicans and Democrats during the 2020 campaign season, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday.

Two-thirds of Americans say they are paying close attention to election news now, a rise from the 54% of respondents who said the same in early June. But their media diets vary widely with their political affiliations.

Respondents were asked if they considered the following news sources “major,” “minor” or “not at all” when seeking political news: Fox News and talk radio — the survey offered Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh’s programs as examples — were the right-leaning options, while CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post were the left-leaning options.

The three national TV networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – were also offered as options, representing sources whose audiences are a mix of left- and right-leaning voters.

Of participants who identified as Republicans or said they lean Republican, 29% said their major source of news was only Fox News or talk radio, and 42% said they used none of the listed sources.

Thirty-two percent of Democrats and respondents who said they lean Democrat said they only consider CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the New York Times or the Washington Post as their major news source, while 26% said they used none of the sources mentioned.

With this knowledge, Pew researchers were able to break down respondents’ answers to other questions.

For example, 49% of adults say that voter fraud has been either a major or minor problem for voting by mail in presidential elections, while 27% said it was not a problem at all and 20% said they were unsure.

But among Republicans who use only Fox News or talk radio as their main source of news, 61% said fraud is a major problem and another 26% call it a minor problem. Only 1% of these respondents said it was not a problem at all.

Of the Republicans who considered neither Fox News nor talk radio to be major sources of information, 14% said voter fraud was no problem and a much smaller selection — 23% — considered it a major one.

Just more than two-thirds of the Democrats who consider only the liberal-leaning news sources to be major agreed that voter fraud was not a problem at all for voting by mail, while 21% said it was only a minor problem and 4% called it a major issue.

Of the Democrats who only used sources other than MSNBC, CNN, NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post, more than one-third said voter fraud was no issue for mail-in voting, and 14% called it a major concern.

Republicans and Democrats were also not equal in their ability to correctly answer factual questions that the Pew surveyors asked.

Though two-thirds of all adults rightly said that President Donald Trump is unable to delay the Nov. 3 election, just under half of respondents who lean or identify as Republican answered correctly and 35% were unsure. By contrast, more than four-fifths of Democrats and independents leaning Democrat answered accurately, and only 14% said they were unsure.

Respondents did not do nearly as well when asked if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has supported defunding the police. Just 35% correctly answered that Biden has not voiced such support. More than half of Democrats got this question right, while two-thirds of the Republicans who said only Fox News or talk radio were their major sources of news inaccurately answered that Biden had supported defunding police departments.

Notably, Republicans were more than 10 times likelier than Democrats to call vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris “very liberal.”

The Pew survey also asked about QAnon, the increasingly popular and false conspiracy theory that claims Trump is secretly battling a global cabal of Satan worshippers who engage in child sex trafficking. Almost half of all respondents said they’ve heard about QAnon.

While 41% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who have heard of QAnon said they think it is a somewhat or very good thing for the country, 48% said it was somewhat or very bad. Only 6% of liberally minded respondents who’d heard of QAnon thought it was any good, while 90% said it was somewhat or very bad.

The parties were also divided on who shares the blame for disinformation and false reporting about the election. Almost 70% of all U.S. adults said they’ve seen some or a lot of election news that “seemed completely made up.”

Though the overwhelming majority of all respondents blamed politicians and activist groups, almost 30% said journalists are to blame. More than half of Republicans say journalists make up a lot of news about the election, but less than 10% of Democrats agree.

Of note, only 17% of Republicans blame foreign governments for election disinformation, while more than a quarter of Democrats feel the same way.

To obtain the data, Pew researchers polled a panel of 9,220 adults in the U.S. via self-administered web surveys between Aug. 31 and Sept. 7. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

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