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CNN beats Fox News by one important metric, but it may not want to brag about it

CNN beats Fox News by one important metric, but it may not want to brag about it
[Photo: Flickr user xiquinhosilva]

The decades-old rivalry between CNN and Fox News is not especially interesting these days. As anyone who follows the TV industry can tell you, Fox News routinely trounces CNN in prime-time ratings, according to Nielsen, and it pretty much dominates online, too.

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But there is at least one metric by which CNN comes out on top, albeit a dubious one. Over the last few years, research firm Morning Consult has released its list of the “most politically polarizing” brands, a data set that looks at brands’ favorability with Republicans and Democrats and then measures the “spread” between them. Not surprisingly, news organizations dominate this list of rabble-rousing entities, with the New York Times, ABC News, the Washington Post, and all three major cable news networks appearing in the top 15.

What’s really interesting, however, is when you look specifically at CNN, the most polarizing news brand on the list. (Only Trump Hotels scored more polarizing, although I can’t imagine why.) This year, CNN has a net favorability of 55 points among Democrats, while its net favorability among Republicans is minus 25 points. Yes, minus 25! All told, that’s a staggering 80-point spread.

Fox News, meanwhile, has net favorability of 53 points among Republicans and minus 20 points among Democrats, for a point spread of 73. So you can see, not only is the Fox News brand seen as less polarizing than CNN, it’s also viewed somewhat more positively by the opposing side.

There could be a few reasons for this. Fox News is one of the few news brands on the list that is viewed more favorably among Republicans than Democrats—that latter of whom have a wider variety of mainstream sources to choose from—so Fox’s audience is probably more monolithic overall. It’s also possible that the news cycle this summer, when Morning Consult’s surveys were taken, was especially polarizing in and of itself. Let’s face it: CNN spent the better part of a year treating the Mueller report like it was the only story that mattered, so it’s not surprising that it turned off a few viewers.

In fact, Morning Consult’s survey data supports this. CNN was rated 14 points more polarizing this year than last year, but that’s because its favorability dropped even further among Republicans. Its favorability with Democrats stayed about the same. That said, when comparing this year to last year, Fox News fared even worse—becoming 19 points more polarizing.

It’s hard to know what news outlets should make of any of this data. Is it a reflection of the way they cover the news, or how audiences perceive the news, or both? But it sure is consistent with the idea that news consumers are increasingly living in parallel universes of different, often conflicting information streams—and it’s only getting worse.

You can check out Morning Consult’s full survey results here and the infographic below:

[Morning Consult]
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