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February 22, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:03am

Democrats paying less attention to US national news than Republicans for first time in four years

By Bron Maher

Interest in national US news has fallen to a four-year low, new research has shown.

The slump contrasts with surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic and 2020 US election brought widespread attention to national news.

In particular fewer Democrats are now paying “a great deal” of attention to national news than Republicans for the first time since the regular research began in 2018.

The research, conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, surveyed 4,221 US adults between 23 November and 3 December 2021.

Across all demographics, the percentage of Americans paying “a great deal” of attention to national news declined from 54% in November 2020 to 33% a year later.

The steep drop, the research authors said, was “the first meaningful shift in attention to news we’ve seen during the past four years beyond any expected ebb and flow of attention following a major national or political event”.

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Gallup and the Knight Foundation began carrying out their surveys of news interest in February 2018. The median figure for Americans paying a great deal of attention to national news across the whole period was 46%.

At the end of 2021, 21% of Americans were paying close attention to local news and 12% to international news. Unlike national news, the figures for interest in local and international news were the same in late 2021 as they had been in November 2020.

In the four years since February 2018, the greatest interest in national, local and international news came in March 2020, when the pandemic first began to significantly affect many countries. In that month’s survey, 56% of Americans said they were paying a great deal of attention to national news, 44% to local news and 32% to international news.

At the last survey prior to the pandemic, in December 2019, those figures stood at 43%, 22% and 15% respectively.

Among Democrats, the research found, the percentage paying close attention to news has declined from a high of 69% in November 2020 to 34% late last year.

Republicans experienced a more modest drop from 45% to 40% in the same period.

Independents are paying the least attention of any Americans, with only 29% plugging into current affairs. The researchers noted that Republican and Democrat leaning independents reproduced the patterns of their more dyed-in-the-wool counterparts.

According to the authors, recent Gallup research “on Americans’ attention to national political news shows that Republicans paid more attention to national political news during Barack Obama’s presidency, while Democrats did so after Donald Trump took office.

“However, rather than seeing an increase in attention to national news by Republicans since the election of President Biden, we report a marginal decrease.

“Therefore, other factors may contribute to this drop, such as tuning out of news about Covid or a general sense of news ‘burnout’ after a tumultuous year.”

Young Democrats had the most volatile interest in the news, dropping 46 points from 70% to 24% between November 2020 and the end of 2021.

Young Republicans, in contrast, “actually decreased in paying a great deal of attention to national news from late September/early October of 2020 compared to November by 12 percentage points and increased in their attention to national news by December of 2021 by three percentage points”.

Democrats 55 and older, who over the four year period have been the demographic most attentive to national news overall, have now drawn even with Republicans the same age for their attention to news.

Several news providers achieved record visits in the early pandemic, although that success was not always coupled with immediate revenue boosts due to turbulence in the digital advertising market.

Nonetheless, major media publishers including News Corp, Gannett, and Reach have since surpassed their pre-pandemic market capitalisations.

And contrary to Americans' apparently diminished appetites for news, even publishers said to have benefitted from the 2016 to 2020 "Trump bump", including Bloomberg and The New York Times,  recorded enviable growth in 2021.

[Read more: Pandemic puts 'rocket boosters' on live blogs as sites see sky-high engagement]

Picture: Didzis Kadaks/Focus/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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