Understanding political polarization

I have long used the data collected by the PEW Research Center when I write about the educational use of technology. The Research Center collects data on a wide range of topics and is careful about the survey methodology employed making it a source I trust. The Center offers useful insights into other issues and has long provided information on political matters. In 2014, the Center sought to understand media consumption by those labeling themselves as having different political values. The following is their summary contrasting the 20% who label themselves as consistent conservatives or consistent liberals. There is are positive and negative factors (according to my interpretation) in each category.

[the following content excerpted from the PEW site – see the link above for additional information]

Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
  • Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:

  • Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.
  • Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.
  • Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.


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