November 3, 2016

Civic Engagement Strongly Tied to Local News Habits

3. Perceived political diversity shows little relationship with local news habits

One aspect of civic life that registers little connection with local news habits is perceived political diversity — that is, whether a person feels residents of their community generally share the same political views or not.

Seven-in-ten U.S. adults report living in communities with a mix of political views, while about three-in-ten (27%) say the political views are similar where they live. While past research has shown sharply polarized media diets at the national level, these new data suggest that at the local level, general news tendencies are quite similar.

Those who see their communities as politically diverse are slightly more likely to very closely follow local news (39%) than those in politically similar communities (32%) – but this is a far smaller gap than for other civic measures. (For instance, 52% of regular local voters follow local news very closely, compared with 31% of those who do not vote regularly.) And both those in politically diverse and politically similar communities follow neighborhood news at similar rates – roughly one-in-three do so (34% and 31% respectively). They are also similarly likely to follow two or more locally relevant news topics (30% and 27% respectively).

Similarly, there are few differences between those who say they live in politically diverse and politically similar communities when it comes to getting community news from various source types. There is a small difference for local TV, with 52% of those who say they live in politically diverse communities using that source multiple times a week or more, compared with 47% of those in politically similar communities. And three-in-ten in diverse communities get news from three or more source types (vs. 24% of those in communities with similar political values) – but again, these gaps are considerably smaller than what we see for community attachment or local voting. The two groups do not differ in their use of local radio, local newspapers, word of mouth, social networking sites, local newsletters and local blogs.

When it comes to attitudes, the two groups line up even more closely. Those who say their communities are politically diverse and politically similar are about equally likely to trust their local media organizations and approve of the job the local media are doing – roughly one-in-five for each.

These similarities are also evident using an external measure of political diversity: whether similar proportions of voters in one’s area cast their ballots for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. This analysis is based only on the 3,712 respondents whose congressional district has been determined.4 There are almost no differences between those who live in congressional districts where the 2012 presidential election was closely contested and those who do not.

  1. A “closely contested” district is one where Obama received between 45% and 55% of the vote in the 2012 presidential election, calculated using Daily Kos’ district-level data. One-in-five respondents live in such closely contested districts.