A Two Americas of Cable TV Viewers

In new survey released by Pew, Americans see few ideological differences among the three broadcast TV news networks, but among regular viewers of cable TV news, content differences are readily apparent, and these perceptions flow heavily from partisanship.

In general, the public sees few differences among the three broadcast networks. Fully 74% say ABC News, CBS News and NBC News are all pretty much the same. Only 18% say there are real differences between the three. But impressions of the three major cable news networks differ substantially. While 40% of the public says CNN, the Fox News cable channel and MSNBC are pretty much the same, 48% see real differences among the three. The feeling that the three broadcast networks are all pretty much the same is shared by network and cable news viewers alike. When it comes to evaluations of the cable news networks, however, cable viewers themselves are among the most likely to draw distinctions among the three major outlets. Among regular viewers of CNN, Fox and MSNBC, roughly 60% say that real differences separate the cable news networks. This compares with 48% of the general public and 44% of regular viewers of the big three broadcast networks.

In addition, views of the cable networks differ sharply by education and partisanship. College graduates are much more likely than non-college graduates to see real differences between CNN, Fox and MSNBC. And Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see differences. Among Republicans, 57% say there are real differences among the three major cable news networks; only 33% say the cable networks are all the same. Democrats are evenly split on this issue: 45% say there are real differences, 46% say the cable networks are all the same.

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