May 20, 2020

Americans Who Rely Most on White House for COVID-19 News More Likely to Downplay the Pandemic

1. How Americans’ main sources for COVID-19 news relate to their demographics, politics

From national news outlets to public officials to health organizations, Americans are turning to a broad mix of sources for news and information about the coronavirus outbreak. But when asked which source they rely on most, distinctions emerge. And the composition of who relies most on these different sources varies by certain political and demographic characteristics.

The survey asked respondents which of 10 sources or groups of sources they use for news about the coronavirus outbreak, and then following those answers, asked which of these they rely on most for this news. This analysis further examines five that are the primary source for 5% or more of U.S. adults: National news outlets, public health organizations and officials, local news outlets, Donald Trump and the White House coronavirus task force, and state and local elected officials and their offices. (The five groups of sources without sufficient sample sizes to further analyze are international news outlets; friends, family and neighbors; community or neighborhood newsletters or Listservs; online forums or discussion groups; and Joe Biden and his campaign. See Overview for details.)

About nine-in-ten of those who rely most on Trump and the coronavirus task force for COVID-19 news are Republican

A deeper examination of these groups reveals demographic and political patterns in their composition, some of which are more evident than others.

The most dramatic political divide occurs among those who rely most on Trump and his coronavirus task force. Fully 92% of U.S. adults in this group are Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while just 6% are Democrats or Democratic leaners. In other words, there are about 15 times as many Republicans as Democrats who say they rely most on Trump and his task force for COVID-19 news. What’s more, 71% of people in this group are self-described conservative Republicans.

Democrats make up a larger portion of each of the other four groups than do Republicans, but by much smaller margins. Indeed, the group with the highest proportion of Democrats includes about twice as many Democrats as Republicans: Democrats account for 66% of those who rely most on national news outlets, compared with 31% who are Republicans. The group relying most on local news outlets is the most evenly mixed, though it still is more Democratic: Democrats make up about half of the group (52%) and Republicans about four-in-ten (42%).

Attention to news about the coronavirus outbreak varies across the groups turning to these sources. The most engaged groups are those who rely most on national news outlets (56% are following coronavirus news very closely) and those who rely most on Trump and his task force (55%). The Americans who are least attentive are those who say they rely most on local news outlets: 35% say they are following news about the outbreak very closely.

Demographic profiles of those who rely the most on each of five sources for COVID-19 news

Those who rely most on Trump and the White House task force are more likely than other groups to be older and also more likely to be white and non-Hispanic, which generally aligns with their political makeup and the demographic characteristics of Republicans overall. About four-in-ten (39%) are ages 65 and older, compared with no more than a quarter among the other groups. On the other hand, those who rely on public health organizations and officials are more likely to be young adults (26% in that group are ages 18 to 29).

The group turning mostly to Trump and the task force for coronavirus news also is by far the most likely to be white (82%). The most racially diverse group is those who rely on local news outlets: 45% are nonwhite, which includes about one-in-five (22%) who are Hispanic and 16% who are black.

The groups relying on different outlets vary in their educational attainment as well. Americans who turn most to local news organizations have the lowest share who have a college degree (19%). On the other hand, more than twice as many people who rely most on national news outlets have at least a college degree (43%). A similar share of those who primarily rely on public health organizations and officials (39%) are college graduates.