The old adage, you are what you watch, certainly applies to modern politics. The news sources people monitor offer key insights into their political preferences. Those preferences in fact determine what news sources people consume. And, news sources in turn reinforce viewer’s political preferences. A powerful cycle – one that recreates itself with even greater force on social media.
Back in the day – the 1950s thru 1980s – our choices for TV news were limited to the big three networks ABC, NBC, CBS. Each broadcasted the news to very large audiences, targeting the average viewer that possessed moderate political orientations. News was considered a public good, a check on political power and a means to educate citizens about political affairs.
Today, we have many more options. Cable channels narrow-cast to a relatively small segment of the population. They target a slice of the public that holds passionate ideological views. Capturing that narrow portion can be profitable. The ideals of educating the public and limiting political power take a back seat to maximizing advertising revenue and showcasing a political perspective.
The consequences of the narrow-casting are evident in the graph below – courtesy of a 2019 Pew Center Research study. Without question, changes in the news media industry are in part responsible for the strong partisan polarization in today’s politics.