The Seven "Nations" of Political Talk

Just a few weeks prior to the 2008 elections, we conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,164 American adults aged 18+. This was a period of heightened political interest and discussion, due to the historic campaigns of then Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. Among many other questions, we asked respondents how often they watch or listen to six of the major political commentators in the media today: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity & Alan Colmes, Bill O’Reilly, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Keith Olberman.

What follows is an analysis of the size, political leanings, demographic characteristics, values and attitudes of each “nation” of political talk within the United States. Please note that there is some overlap between these different audiences, with some Americans who tune in to more than one commentator. We have also compared the characteristics of each audience to the much larger proportion of the public (57%) who do not watch or listen to any of these commentators.

While there are some predictable patterns, such as conservative commentators attracting more conservative audiences and liberal commentators attracting more liberal audiences, it is also interesting to note that each audience is more diverse than these simple stereotypes. As just one example, some Democrats and liberals listen to Rush Limbaugh, while some Republicans and conservatives watch Keith Olberman. Likewise, while majorities of Sean Hannity watchers have strongly conservative values, not all do, just as not all John Stewart watchers have liberal values.

Lots of fun and surprising results in here. Enjoy.


How often do you watch or listen to the following shows?
(
"often" and "sometimes" combined)
AudienceSize
Using U.S. Census estimates for the American population for November, 2008 we can roughly approximate the size of each audience. Note that the survey question asked: “How often do you watch or listen to the following shows?” The response categories were: “often”, “sometimes”, “hardly ever”, and “never”. The estimates below are based on those respondents that said they tuned in either “often” or “sometimes.” Again, these are just approximations. It is also important to note that these results come from the period just before the 2008 election, when interest and fervor were at their peak. It is certainly plausible that audience sizes have decreased since then.

Total U.S. Adult (18+) Population = 231,500,000
Rush Limbaugh = 27,777,000
Sean Hannity & Alan Colmes = 32,406,000
Bill O’Reilly = 43,980,000
None = 131,939,000
John Stewart = 37,036,000
Stephen Colbert = 34,721,000
Keith Olberman = 27,777,000



POLITICAL LEANINGS

Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a...
Party


In general, do you think of yourself as…
Ideology


Are you registered to vote?
Registered


If the 2008 presidential election were being held today, who would you vote for? (late October, 2008)
Vote



AUDIENCE DEMOGRAPHICS

Sex



Age



Education



Evang



Attend



VALUES AND ATTITUDES

Please tell us how strongly you agree or disagree with each statement below.

(
"somewhat agree" and "strongly agree" combined)

Regulation



TakeCare



Money



Poverty



Needs



Peace



Fight



Descrim



Evol



Creation



Moral



METHODS

In September and October of 2008, a nationally representative survey of 2,164 American adults was conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason Universities. Respondents completed two separate questionnaires, two weeks apart, using the nationally representative online panel of Knowledge Networks. The within-panel completion rate was 54 percent. The margin of error for each of the audiences ranges from +/- 1.4% to 3.1% from the largest audience (None) to the smallest (Limbaugh and Olberman).