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Republicans and Democrats: More divided than ever? Or just back to normal?

Republicans and Democrats may be more divided this year, versus 2016, in how each group consumes policy media.

The 2017 results are in

Our 2016 survey data showed that Republicans and Democrats had similar levels of trust in media brands, and shared a few of the same media brands as their go-to sources for policy information. Nine out of the top fifteen reported media brands were the same for both Republican and Democrats. The top two media brands were the same for Insiders from both parties, but reversed in order.

The 2017 survey results show a significant change. In this year’s survey, Republicans increasingly reported being less likely to trust their go-to sources of news and information. Democrats, on the other hand, reported themselves to be more trusting of their go-to sources.

Go-to sources and trust levels

Some of the go-to sources for both parties include national media brands, as well as brands that are prominent mainly inside the Beltway. In 2016, more than 70% of all Washington Insiders (Congressional staff members, federal executives, and private sector professionals) reported trust in national media brands and in inside-the-Beltway media brands. But this year shows a decline in trust across the board. Even still, trust is highest for these brands than for other information sources.

Among Washington Insiders, Republicans’ level of trust in national brands dropped 10% from 2016. For Beltway brands, Republican trust declined by nearly 15%. Democrats, by contrast, reported an increase in trust for national media brands. Trust among Democrats for Beltway brands also rose.

Interesting questions to explore:

Why do the trends in trust appear to be moving in opposite directions between Washington Insiders who affiliate with the two prominent political parties?

We don’t have an answer to this question, yet. But we’ll keep tracking the trends in trust and media consumption through subsequent surveys.

As we looked back at previous Washington in the Information Age surveys, it became evident that although trust is lower than it has been, and seems to be trending downward, they aren’t the lowest they’ve ever been. In fact, the levels are similar to what they were in 2012. Some other questions that may be worth exploring would be:

Are we seeing evidence of a cycle of trust?
Are we simply back to where we started?
Will levels of trust continue to erode, or will they bounce back?
What are the fundamental drivers of the changes in these trust levels?

They can agree on some things

One area where responses from Republicans and Democrats were similar is on digital information sources. Online-only news brands and social media platforms are less trusted this year by both parties; and generally by all the Insiders we polled. This is interesting to note, given the prevalence of digital media; especially of information shared throughout social networks.

The survey

We were pleased with the responses we received in this year’s Washington in the Information Age survey. Nearly 1,200 Insiders participated in the 2017 study. The data they provide help us and our clients better understand the policy media landscape: how policy professionals and federal executives consume media; what content formats are most effective; and opportunities for greater reach and impact.

National Journal Leadership Council members can access the full study (along with detailed data cuts by party, workplace, and generation). Those without access can purchase it here.