Political Media Fragmentation: Echo Chambers in Cable News

A Quantitative Analysis of the Audience Compositions of MSNBC and Fox News

ABSTRACT

As the number of available outlets for political news grows, so does the tendency of citizens to self-select which news to consume and which to ignore. This news filtering has resulted in media fragmentation—a situation where different individuals are consuming unique news packages. This paper looks at selectivity by news consumers on cable news, namely, MSNBC and Fox News. This study argues that political media selectivity is largely driven by political belief systems. Using a quantitative, statistical methodology, I performed an audience analysis using the Pew Research Center’s 2010 Media Consumption Survey. I show how fragmented cable news audiences are based on party identification and political ideology, with Democrats/liberals gravitating towards MSNBC and Republicans/conservatives relying heavily on Fox News, and both groups largely ignoring the opposing point of view. Further, using OLS regression models, I support the assertion that political belief systems are strong and important predictors of media outlet choice. This study then discusses the polarizing effects of this “echo chamber” news environment, where citizens lack a common frame of reference on political issues and move towards more fiercely partisan, and often radical, political opinions.

Rebecca Chalif, Georgetown University


President Obama Discusses Media Fragmentation at the 2010 Commencement Address at the University of Michigan:


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Citation:

Chalif, Rebecca. 2011.  “Political Media Fragmentation: Echo Chambers in Cable News,” Electronic Media & Politics, 1 (3): 46-65.

Content Analysis of MSNBC and Fox News Here.

Pew's 2010 Media Consumption Survey Here.