Behold, the Republicanization of the news.
To some extent, it happens on a predictable cycle, just not as profoundly as this one.
Overall news consumption is down significantly over the past year, in every category from broadcast TV to app downloads to social sharing. It makes sense, given how news-obsessed everyone was during the peak COVID-plus-election chaos of 2020. While news attention drops after every election year, the delta between ‘20 and ‘21 was particularly dramatic.
As we always tell our clients, lines on a graph never move in equal proportions among all the people who comprise them. Topline survey results always mask the nuanced, divisible groups whose opinions or behaviors vary based on their characteristics or circumstances. In this age of intensifying political tribalism, that has never been truer.
Truer still in the modern news ecosystem.
The percentage of Democrats who are consuming hard news spiked in late 2020. Again, this isn’t entirely unexpected – Dems are traditionally more plugged in to news and politics in major election years. But the decline, this time, has been severe.
Among the 140+ news organizations that use our polling platform, the gap between Republicans and Democrats who visit newspaper sites has widened by 14 points. On TV news sites, by 15 points. On digital-native news sites, by over 25 points.
These extraordinary shifts are being driven, in part, by news exhaustion. When asked if they’re experiencing political fatigue, Dems are nearly 20% more likely than Rs to say “Yes, absolutely.” As a result, the percentage of Dems who say they follow politics “Very closely” dropped from 60% in November 2020 to 35% in November 2021.
The implications are too numerous to cover in detail here, so we’ll be publishing a full study later this month. In the meantime, I’ll tease a few things:
For one – and perhaps most ominously, depending on your political views – algorithms will quickly learn everything I just told you, if not why. If right-leaning headlines and articles generate more engagement, more right-leaning content will be prioritized, potentially driving more Dems away from news platforms and spinning the cycle forward. Yikes.
The impact for media brands and advertisers is also massive. As I’ve told you over many Saturday emails, almost nothing is more predictive of a consumer’s affinities and behaviors today than their political persuasion, not even their demographics. It can tell us how likely someone is to purchase in a given category and what brands they’re most likely to buy.
If you aren’t factoring political psychographics into your customer segmentation or advertising strategy, you’re doing it wrong. And with the media and political landscape changing by the day, ignore it at your own risk.
Here’s what we’re seeing:
In related news, Americans are really divided on whether brands should take a stand on social and political issues – with stark partisan differences. Once you figure out the political alignment of your various customer groups, this is the next important minefield to navigate. The majority of consumers don’t want brands to engage in social and political advocacy, including a whopping 81% of Republicans. After peaking in 2020, emphasis on brand social consciousness has been declining – exacerbated by growing price-consciousness thanks to inflation. Among Gen Z, the numbers are a bit different. Although a slim majority (51%) prefer companies not to take stances, they do prioritize brands’ values more than any other age group.
COVID concerns are the highest we’ve seen them since before the vaccine came along. This one probably doesn’t surprise you, but it’s worth highlighting, nonetheless. People are freaked out right now and they’re especially uncomfortable about traveling and attending major public events. It’s driven by (or at least correlated with) the fact that for the first time, a majority of people know one or more people who have tested positive for COVID in the past week. Let’s hope this wave is close to cresting.
At-home exercising is all the rage in 2022 and remote workers exercise the most of all. Overall, the percentage of Americans who say they exercise regularly or occasionally has remained remarkably steady since and before COVID came along. Gyms have taken a beating, of course, but Gen Z is keeping them afloat. Heading into 2022, 60% of Americans plan to do all their exercising at home or outdoors. Expect equipment sales to reflect that.
The use of high-end masks is on the rise, if people can find them. While the majority of U.S. adults still use cloth or disposable masks most of the time, more and more people are opting for the more reliable N95 or KN95 variety. That percentage would be even higher if supply wasn’t a problem. It’s worth noting that far fewer people are wearing any mask at all, compared to last March, which couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the skyrocketing cases of COVID around the country. Oh, and Amazon sells a ton of disposable masks.
People love Topgolf, especially baseball fans. I still haven’t been to Topgolf, though I’m sure I’ll be hooked when I do. One in five Americans have been to either Topgolf or its lesser-known peer, Drive Shack, and another 13% like me are itching to try it. Notably, a full 39% of respondents have never even heard of them, which speaks to a growth opportunity. Young people, in particular, would like to see these concepts expand to different kinds of sports, like maybe cricket or handball. But a car racing concept is in highest demand, even though alcohol sales would be an obvious problem.
More great stuff from the CivicScience crew this week:
- 29% of Gen Zs received some form of cryptocurrency as a gift this year or know somebody who did;
- We asked consumers to rate their favorite QSR restaurants and what matters most to them;
- While people are wary of traveling right now, intent to fly in the coming months remains steady;
- Here are five not-so-surprising things about video game junkies;
- Our latest Trend Adoption Tracker came out – oat milk, VR, and mesh WiFi systems showed some of the biggest gains in Q4.
And here are the most popular questions this week:
- Do you usually eat a full breakfast?
- What is your opinion of oysters?
- Which of the following public entertainment activities is your favorite to attend alone?
- In your opinion, is it acceptable or unacceptable to eat food of any kind in bed?
- Are you better at crosswords or Sudoku?
- Do you think you speak with a regional dialect?
Answer Key: Only on vacation; Absolutely love them; Museums; No, never, gross; Crosswords; Thank God, no.
Hoping you’re well.
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In case you’re wondering, this is an informal email I write to CivicScience clients, friends, and other VIPs every Saturday morning. If you’re getting this, you’re either one of those people or were referred to me by one of them. I always love your comments and feedback.
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