Who’s watching? A look at the demographics of cable news channel watchers

Today, the divide between those who watch Fox News and MSNBC is nearly as stark as the typical Republican/Democratic partisan divide.  Fox News watchers give President Trump a 64% approve-34% disapprove rating, while MSNBC viewers disapprove at a rate of 21% approve-78% disapprove.  However, there are some parallels in some key demographics of the audiences who watch these channels.

For one, Fox News viewers (34% of American adults in the January 2018 NBC/WSJ poll) are often typecast as being old and white.  In fact, according to the same January 2018 NBC/WSJ poll, the 21% of Americans who watch MSNBC are also slightly older:

And, MSNBC viewers are nearly as likely to be white as those who watch Fox News:

Additionally, when it comes to their self-described economic circumstance, they are essentially identical:

Differences start to emerge when looking at these cable news viewers by profession and education.  Fox News viewers are a bit more likely to be employed, while MSNBC watchers are more likely to be employed in professional or managerial roles than the Fox News audience:

Further, when looking at education, the differences between the groups expand:

This education demographic is what drives the differences between Fox News and MSNBC viewers.  As 2016 exit polls demonstrated, education level has become the new political divide in America.  President Trump won voters with less than a college education, while Hillary Clinton won among voters with a college degree – and in the two years since the election, their choice for their news source follows this pattern as well.

The biggest differences come, not too surprisingly, along party and ideological lines (some viewers may well be “hate watching” the news on the other side of their political beliefs):

These differences become more apparent when looking at how viewers stand on key issues.  For example, 67% of Fox News viewers support a wall or fence along the Southern border, while 70% of MSNBC watchers oppose this.  And on the Russia investigation, 69% of the MSNBC audience say Robert Mueller’s investigation has given them more doubts about Trump’s presidency; however, just 28% of Fox News viewers say the same.

There is no question that the ideological divide in America is growing and while the audiences of Fox News and MSNBC look the same in some demographic aspects, it is clear that they couldn’t be much different based on their politics.

Polling for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal is conducted by Republican pollster Bill McInturff and Democratic pollster Fred Yang. This analysis is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of NBC, The Wall Street Journal, or Hart Research Associates.

Public Opinion Strategies