Post-election, patterns of news consumption look different

FOX News viewership is down, “none” is up.

The author(s)
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
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What you need to know:

  • Patterns in news consumption are evolving after the 2020 presidential election. The number of Americans who turn to FOX News, social media, or other digital sources as their main source of news is down, compared to earlier this year.
  • Post-election, views on certain key facts, like the “true” coronavirus death toll, are changing across Americans by preferred news source. Pandemic-related behaviors, like mask wearing, are shifting too across these groups.

Deep dive:

In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, FOX News ratings are significantly down, while sites promoted by President Trump, like Newsmax or OANN, are getting a boost.

These trends are echoed in the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, which tracks where Americans are primarily sourcing their news. From the start of the pandemic to the weeks after the election, the number of Americans who identify FOX as their main source of news fell by six points.

This isn’t the only change in news consumption seen from March to the present. Americans began turning to social media and other digital sources in greater numbers from the spring lockdowns through November – but this rapidly tapered off post-election.

The other category to see meaningful but steadier growth over the pandemic is “none of these” – ie., sources other than the listed mainstream, established sources across a variety of mediums – or no news at all.  This “none” group is seeing an almost equivalent amount of growth relative to FOX’s loss – though it is not clear how many of these former FOX watchers are now opting out of the mainstream news altogether or migrating to other channels.

Changes in news consumption

These changes suggest a possible shift in what had become a deeply engrained partisan split in news consumption. FOX News, long a haven for the conservative point of view, was reliably the preferred source of news for Republicans and Trump supporters. As a consequence of partisans’hip driving opinion about the key issues of the day – from President Trump’s impeachment trial, to the pandemic, to the social justice movement – FOX News viewers tended to see these same topics in a markedly different light from those who subscribe to sources like ABC, CNN or MSNBC.

As just one example, FOX News viewers were the most likely to believe that the COVID death toll was overstated through the pandemic up until the election, the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus found. By point of contrast, CNN and MSNBC viewers opinion at times exactly mirrored the opposing viewpoint.

According to the most recent wave of Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, the number of FOX News viewers who believe the death toll is overstated is still high relative to Americans who primarily get their news elsewhere. However, there has been a decline in FOX viewers who think it is an overcount, with a drop of some 15 points. A similar ratio of Americans who get their news from “other” or “none” of these news sources also believe that it is an overcount – but their number is increasing, not declining.

COVID death toll

Changes aren’t limited to views on coronavirus deaths. Behavior is shifting too. Mask wearing is up across the board, with FOX News viewers posting a particularly notable increase from 55% wearing masks at least some of the time when outside the home from the spring lockdown to 87% post-election. Americans who turn to “none of these” as their primary source of news show an even greater gain in mask usage, from 33% to 77% over the same period.

In part, the winnowing away of FOX’s numbers overall – and the softening of some of the more divergent COVID-related views once held by this group – could come down to a general decline in interest in political news now that the furor of the election season is over. Trump could also be playing a role in driving people away from FOX as his critiques of the network on his social media platforms grow more pointed in the wake of the election.

While news consumption in conservative circles might be going through a shakeup, we are still seeing divergent views across the news spectrum when it comes to the leaders of America’s major political parties. Holding the most polarized views, 2% of MSNBC and CNN viewers say they trust Trump to provide them with accurate information about the coronavirus, but 93% trust Biden.

By contrast, three quarters of FOX News say they hold a great deal or fair amount of trust in Trump to give them accurate information about the coronavirus, well above any other group. And though more FOX News watchers trust Joe Biden on the coronavirus now than before the election, they are still a minority at 18%.

Trust in Trump and Biden


Distrust of the mainstream media has long been a feature of our polarized political landscape and FOX News watchers have frequently been outliers on a range of issues. The data suggests that this is still more or less the case. But at the same time, Americans opting for “none” of the possible news sources or “other” appear to be drawing closer to FOX viewers on some of these core issues. Are some of those FOX departees now simply opting out of the news altogether?

With news viewership at least temporarily in flux, there are possible implications for how Americans across the aisle see the world in the Biden era. But it is still early to draw any definitive conclusions. It remains to be seen whether these initial post-election trends, across news consumption and in worldview, hold into 2021.  



The author(s)
  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs