Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that people are more comfortable hearing politically controversial information from sources they already agree with. Such is the business model of MSNBC on the left and Fox News on the right.

Is there any scientific evidence that suggests people are indeed more likely to believe things told to them by people who agree with them? Or, is it an entire ecosystem of advertising and more traditional persuasive techniques (i.e. sex, violence, etc.) that draws in audiences.

Finally, if there is a correlation between ideology and information selection, what accounts for the difference between political affiliation throughout the country and the relative market share between Fox News and MSNBC?

  • In group favouritism is a thoroughly studied social psychology phenomenon, in general people are more likely to trust what their group tells them and scrutinize what other groups say.
    – yannis
    Jan 27 '13 at 8:06
  • 1
    This question is really 3 questions, and should probably be closed. I have a answer to all three, but what would an up/down vote mean? (One of the answers is right/wrong, all of them?)
    – user1873
    Jan 29 '13 at 2:39
  • This may be a better question for skeptics actually, you would get a more though cited answer, and it shouldn't be hard to find a notable claim to justify the question.
    – dsollen
    Nov 1 '16 at 21:52

tl;dr - Yes

You are describing selective exposure theory. Wikipedia notes that this is sometimes called confirmation bias (in the language of cognitive bias research). I've expanded on some segments of related research below, but basically people don't like information that conflicts with what they think.

Hostile Media Effect

People are not passive recipients of information from the media. Research on hostile media effects show that when people with strong opinions on a subject are presented with information that conflicts with their opinion, they discredit that source. This happens whether the source is in-fact biased or not.

People of more moderate opinions might find that agreement with peers is more important than the content of the opinion. In this case, people are more likely to believe what others around them believe. Danubian Sailor's answer on social dissonance addresses this.

Media as Agenda Setter

Finally, media doesn't cause people to think anything.

One of the main theories on this subject is the agenda-setting theory. This view says that the media doesn't tell us what to think, but it tells us what to think about.

For example, if you received all your news from fiscal conservative sources you would be likely to think that topics like the national debt, the balance of trade with China, or (maybe) the gold standard are important topics. But listening to that media wouldn't be enough to cause you to think that we should revert to the gold standard.

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    Downvoters, this is an answer that addresses the question referring to sources and without a partisan approach. Could you explain the downvote? If there is an issue with the references or the reasoning, you should state what are you disagreeing with.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 1 '16 at 0:18

To find the confirmation of your these you can refer to social psychology, for example Robert Cialdini (Influence: Science and Practice).

People are more likely to believe people they like. And they are more likely to like people that have similar points of view. So in fact especially when it comes to politics, people are likely to get stuck in the ideology they were once involved in.

Note also the social dissonance effect. People like to know they are wiser and better than the others, which means they are right and others aren't. So they tend to filter the information which could prove that they could be wrong in some concepts, or that they are egoistic. So the investor will not be interested in watching documentary about the hard life of workers which were fired by his company in order to maximize profit.

  • 1
    I'd delete the last example. An investor has no obligation to not fire the worker, and doing so makes the investor prudent, not "egotistic".
    – user4012
    Jan 27 '13 at 20:02
  • @DVK that's actually arguable. It is a wide-spread opinion in the US that the companies must maximize profits, yet it is also a wide spread opinion that the resulting effect (outsourcing) is harmful to the economy in general. So one might claim that investors maximizing profits may indeed be egoistic since they're harming the society in order to benefit personally.
    – user1413
    Jan 28 '13 at 0:44
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    @littleadv - "harmful to the economy in general" - not to world economy, and long term, not to US economy. What you said is just that - opinion. Unless you personally always purchase more expensive things produced locally (preferably same city) vs. lower cost items produced further away - never mind imported - you are engaging in 100% identical behavior to people who wish to purchase cheaper foreign labor via outsourcing. BTW, you should ALSO include all that cheap electronics like iPhone/etc... that would have been a lot more expensive for you had Apple not outsourced production elsewhere
    – user4012
    Jan 28 '13 at 3:08
  • I think you mean cognitive dissonance, not social dissonance (whatever that is, wikipedia doesn't know it). It's the effect that the human brain automatically rejects information which doesn't fit into one's world view.
    – Philipp
    Oct 31 '16 at 11:35
  • @Philipp - Nope, in this case it is social dissonance. This paper defines social dissonance as the "disutility of choosing an action different from others". We like to do what the people around us do, and we are uncomfortable when we don't. users.econ.umn.edu/~zurow001/bzurowski_jmp_nov10.pdf Oct 31 '16 at 15:04

According to a Pew Study, there is polarization in the consumption of news related to political affiliation.

When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust. And whether discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely than others to interact with like-minded individuals, according to a new Pew Research Center study.


Other studies See page 27 have found similar results.

The magnitude of the estimate of the taste for like minded news parameter η implies that an ideological distance of one unit between viewer and channel reduces that viewer’s probability of watching by about 2.5%. For reference, at our estimated scaling parameters, the ideological distance between FNC and MSNBC in 2008 is 4.3 units. Given the quadratic-loss specification of ideological tastes, this distance implies that an average demographic voter located at the ideological position of FNC in 2008 is about 45% more likely to watch FNC than she is to watch MSNBC.

This last study touches on some of the same themes.

Compositional changes in the voting public link cable penetration and the polarization of elections even before the founding of Fox News and the creation of the World Wide Web. Yet, there is little evidence that more partisan messages changed people’s attitudes or behaviors. A key concept, discussed in detail here, is selective exposure. Evidence for partisan selective exposure is mixed and does not, on its own, show media impact.

You also asked about party affiliation generally. The overwhelming indicator for party affiliation, sorry you rebels out there, is mirroring your parents. Although, some interpret their parent's political leanings incorrectly. See Parents See also Teens

“The transmission of political party identification from parents to children remains one of the most studied concepts in political sociology,” political scientists Christopher Ojeda and Peter Hatemi write today in American Sociological Review, yet theories of that transmission have largely stagnated. According to the prevailing view, which dates back to at least the 1950s, you passively adopt your parents’ party affiliation.

As far as Fox regularly crushing MSNBC in the ratings, it has mostly to do with all the major networks, PBS, and CNN compete with MSNBC and Fox has no real network competition. Link

  • Downvoters, this is an answer that addresses the question referring to sources and without a partisan approach. Could you explain the downvote? If there is an issue with the references or the reasoning, you should state what are you disagreeing with.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 1 '16 at 0:20
  • 1
    I was a downvoter. As presented, this is a descriptive answer to a causal question - it tells us what the world is like, but it doesn't explain why. If more of the information from the research articles was brought forward to the answer, I would gladly upvote. Nov 1 '16 at 0:30
  • FWIW (and this was news to me as well), apparently Fox isn't 'crushing it' anymore: thepoliticalinsider.com/fox-news-takes-huge-hit-ratings
    – user1530
    Nov 1 '16 at 5:20

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