Cable News: Audience Autonomy and Political Polarization

44 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2014

See all articles by Daniel Birdsong

Daniel Birdsong

University of Dayton

Nate Ramsey

University of Cincinnati

Misook Gwon

University of Cincinnati

Date Written: August 20, 2014


Since the late 1990s, the United States has witnessed an increase in the number of Cable News sources reinforcing a fragmented media environment. Cable News programming gives news consumers more autonomy in developing what we call “news networks.” An individual’s “news network” is like their social network, it is an individual’s network of trusted sources for political news. Americans have the opportunity to choose heterogeneous Cable News programming where they are more likely to hear dissenting voices or homogeneous Cable News programming where they are less likely to hear dissenting voices. However, surveys show partisan sorting among Cable News programs, thus programs like The Sean Hannity Show draw more Republicans and Conservatives, whereas shows like Hardball with Chris Matthews have more Democrats and Liberals watching. The central piece in this examination of Cable News audiences is the effect of an individual’s Cable News choices on public opinion. Does watching more Cable News shows that share an individual’s partisan leanings lead to mass political polarization, or lead to further elite level political polarization? Using the 2010 and the 2012 Media Consumption Surveys from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press we examine the Cable News choices Americans make and the effect those choices have on political behavior and public opinion. Ironically, even in an era of audience autonomy, political polarization in Cable News may serve to reinforce the power among elites.

Keywords: selective exposure; polarization; public opinion

Suggested Citation

Birdsong, Daniel and Ramsey, Nate and Gwon, Misook, Cable News: Audience Autonomy and Political Polarization (August 20, 2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Daniel Birdsong (Contact Author)

University of Dayton ( email )

300 College Park
Dayton, OH 45469
United States

Nate Ramsey

University of Cincinnati ( email )

Cincinnati, OH 45221-0389
United States

Misook Gwon

University of Cincinnati ( email )

No Address Available

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