How Do Liberals Learn About Politics?

Okay, I’m going to put on my December hat and ask a very inflammatory question that is guaranteed to drive the liberals here nuts.

Are liberals uneducated? How do they learn about current policy? Do they actually study politics, history, etc?

The reason I ask is because there have been a few interesting things going on in the media lately. First, there’s the handwringing in liberal circles about a lack of a liberal ‘Rush Limbaugh’. The argument we keep hearing about this is that liberals are more thoughtful, and aren’t predisposed to ‘sound bite’ journalism.

But then yesterday, Donahue was cancelled because no one was watching. The O’Reilly Factor has SIX TIMES the viewership, even though Donahue is a very polished, experienced broadcaster who was offering a thoughtful liberal alternative to conservative pundit shows.

Then I read this article in Slate, which explains why. According to the article, cable news in general only has about 17% of viewers who identify as ‘liberal’. And that’s not just Fox - it includes CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox.

So Liberals aren’t watching cable news, or listening to talk radio. Maybe they stick to the main networks and their newscasts then?

Nope. CBS says 40% of its viewers are conservative, and only 12% liberal. NBC: 43.2 conservative, 15.5 liberal. ABC: 41.9/15.8.

So it looks like far more conservatives than liberals watch TV news in general, and listen to political radio shows in MUCH greater numbers than liberals.

Well, maybe liberals are deeper thinkers. Maybe they read more books.

Nope. The Amazon best seller lists for non-fiction are overwhelmingly dominated by conservative books.

Well, maybe liberals are more advanced, and use the web.

Nope. Almost all liberal news sites are suffering. is pretty much toast. Slate is losing money hand over fist. On the other hand, National Review Online is growing and gaining readers constantly. Drudge Report is breaking new records for viewers. And in the Blogging world, conservatives outnumber liberals by a HUGE margin - so much so that it is very difficult to even find liberal blogs.

Well, maybe liberals subscribe to liberal magazines? Nope. According to Pew Research, 52% of conservatives read political magazines and journals, vs only 23% of Liberals.

Newspapers? According to Pew, 35% of conservatives are daily newspaper readers, vs only 18% of liberals.

Even NPR has a bigger audience of conservatives than liberals, by 36% to 20%.

In fact, according to Pew:

So conservatives dominate the audience for all news media, plus ‘grassroots’ internet sites, and books.

What does this mean? Any ideas? Are conservatives more educated than liberals? Are they more serious about politics? Do they think about it more?

If you’re a self-identified liberal, what do YOU read? How do you get your information?

I know this all sounds inflammatory, but I think it’s a very interesting thing to talk about, and I’m seriously interested in your theories about why liberals aren’t paying attention. Or if you think they are, how and where?

I’ve read slate and salon, and I dont see them as particularly liberal. Maybe they are not very popular because they are too middle-of-the-road for most people with strong opinions?

I’m pretty self-directed as far as my political views go. Then again, that’s true of many liberals, so i guess that makes me a liberal :slight_smile: (Reminds me of something I read on alt.gothic: “Some ‘goths’ believe that all true ‘goths’ refuse to admit to being one, therefore, one of the criteria for being a Goth is to not identify as one. However, this leads to a conundrum. For instance, Bill Clinton would probably claim to NOT be a Goth, and we would believe them.”)

i’ve noticed this phenomenon with not only goths and punks, but liberals as well. So if you want to call someone (myself) who is socially libertarian, fiscally right-sized* and a foreign-policy hawk a liberal, go right ahead. I prefer to not label myself.

  • I think that our primary aim RIGHT NOW should be to balance the budget. After public safety, we should base spending on what will generate the most revenue to pay off the debt, keeping in mind that many social and regulatory programs have a net benefit to the economy and too-high taxes a drag.

What makes you think I’m trying to label you? The cites in question are specially talking about people who self-identify as liberal and conservative. If you don’t think you’re liberal, great. And you can see by the numbers (i.e 42% conservative vs 13% liberal) that a big chunk of people consider themselves neither liberal or conservative.

The points raised above say nothing about those people. I have no idea if that big undecided/undeclared chunk of the population tilt slightly liberal or slightly conservative.

So we’re talking about the ideologues here. The activists, party members, etc. On the face of it, it looks to me like the ideologues on the right are more educated and engaged than the ideologues on the left.

Liberal ideas have no currency right now. The country is staunchly against government activism such as single payer healthcare or mandated 35 hr work weeks, etc.

I see the country moving more and more libertarian. There’s equal distate for PC lefties as well as right wing Bible-thumpers.

Sam, there is one very important statistic you forgot to normalize the viewership numbers by…How many people period will describe themselves as liberals vs. conservatives? “Liberal” has become a dirty word in American politics so all your numbers about the viewership of the various networks, etc. have to be considered in light of this question. (I admit that the numbers from Pew and other things of percentage of liberals and conservatives that do various things are unaffected by this issue.)

I guess I would want to see more detailed breakdowns of the numbers too. It is in fact true that there is a correlation between conservatism and education up to a point (and then I believe it reverses at the “postgraduate” level but I am not really sure on this point [obviously, some postgraduates like MBAs are more conservative and I believe PhDs generally more liberal]). Whether this correlation with education persists once you factor out wealth or income or just reflects that correlation is something I don’t know.

As for myself…I get my info from a variety of sources. I listen to NPR, I glance at the Wall Street Journal at work and read the editorial page more carefully [as sort of a project I have going to study you conservative guys like gerbils :wink: ]; I subscribe to and, lesser or greater degrees, actually read The Nation, The American Prospect, Harpers, and Extra! (from the organization FAIR).

I also get, via e-mail, a summary of environmental news from The Daily Grist which has links I can follow to stories that appear in major outlets like The NY Times. I’m also signed up to get alerts from The NY Times when they publish any article on global warming. And, I get various e-mails and magazines from organizations that I contribute to like Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, League of Conservation Voters, Common Cause, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Citizens for Tax Justice, United for a Fair Economy, …

Finally, there are various web sites that I like to visit such as TomPaine.

All in all, it’s information overload!!!

So, Sam Stone, if liberals don’t watch, listen to or read liberal media, are you saying the media is no longer controlled by liberals intent on bashing the right? Or have liberal media moguls found a way around economic truisms like supply and demand, and are able to achieve success even though their primary audience (according to your stats, conservatives), and their message (liberal propaganda) are diametrically opposed? How does that work? Methinks either your stats or your conclusions are out of whack.

I thought people with liberal viewpoints in the USA tended to call themselves “progressives” now.

You seem to assume that if only 15% of TV news viewers identify as liberal, there must be a lot of self-identified liberals somewhere who don’t watch TV news. Maybe the real issue is that most people who conservatives consider “liberal” don’t actually self-identify as “liberal”.

I think you forgot one big, big thing.

A huge majority of college professors are liberal. Conservatives are always complaining about the “liberal agenda” at colleges and universities.

Perhaps liberals get their education the old fashioned way…

Jshore got it right. I don’t know how many times I have had to defend myself as a “true” American. How many times I had to point out that the conservatives spent 8 years bashing clinton, yet they were “patriotic.” Now, when someone dares to question Bush, they are labeled as “anti-american.” The sentiment has changed a bit over the last few months, but still “liberal” is a dirty word.

The Republicans are very very good at labeling things so that nobody wants to be on the other side. They use sound bites because they are so good at it. The Democrats are absolutely pitiful when it comes to calling the Republicans on their lies. Tort liability caps helping frivolous lawsuits? An economic stimulous package that only affects a small percentage of people? The Patriot’s Act plugging up holes that would have saved 3000 lives?

Hillary sends us secret emails every day. But don’t tell anyone.


(Plus, I categorically deny being a big-L Liberal. I just hat big-C Conservatism more.)

So, in the OP above, we have:

and in an OP from earlier this week we have:


I think jshore answered the OP. While I wouldn’t self-identify as Liberal, I am sure there are many that would apply that label to me.

Where do I get my news? Mostly from CNN, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Reuters (and other news service) links off my Yahoo! homepage, and where cites from the SDMB lead me.

[sub]Minty, someone from the vast left wing conspiracy will be around shortly to rap your knuckles for that one![/sub]

Since the main point’s been covered (i.e. maybe only 17% of the US pop self-identifies as liberal), how did I, as a liberal, learn about politics?

Simple: I started off as a Goldwater conservative, and kept my eyes open.

History? Well, I started off as a history major, before switching to math. So I know a bit of history.

Current events? Newspapers, websites, and magazines like the Washington Monthly and the Atlantic.

But also, since I’ve lived at a lot of different income levels, in different regions of the country (urban, suburban and rural, north, south, and Appalachian), I’ve observed a lot of different lives, and considered what liberalism and conservatism said about the problems affecting people, and whether they made sense. I don’t think there’s any substitute for that. To me, liberalism’s answers made sense when matched up with people’s lives, and conservatism’s didn’t.

This is perhaps the stupidest thread I have ever seen on the SDMB. Congratulations, Sam.

Conservatives have pretty much taken over the mass media. Liberals, self-identified or otherwise, don’t have many places to go other than the Web for news and information. Now Sam is suggesting that because liberals don’t go where he thinks they should for news and info, they’re ignorant.

I get my news from CNN, the local news websites (we’ve got a couple of great ones, Slate, Salon and most reliably,

Hold on, though. If it’s just a matter of ‘labelling’, how do you explain the gross disparity in sales between conservative and liberal books? How do you explain the popularity of conservative talk shows, conservative radio, and conservative web sites and other media?

It doesn’t seem to me that it’s just labelling. Most ‘liberal’ books tank in the marketplace (Michael Moore being a big exception).

Donahue is a good case in point - he was on in primetime, on a network that reaches almost as many households as Fox news. Donahue is a very experienced television personality. He able to attract ‘A’ list guests due to his stature - he probably had better guest lists than any of the conservative shows. And yet, he was absolutely Slaughtered by Bill O’Reilly.

For those of you who asked if this means that the media doesn’t have a ‘liberal’ bias - I’d say that the media has been shifting rightwards for the last couple of years. Or rather, the old ‘liberal’ media (Newspapers and the big three networks) are facing a lot of competitive pressure they never used to have. “Big Media” was an oligarchy, which is why it could maintain whatever political position it wanted to - there were no other choices. But with the rise of cable news networks, and their need to respond to competitive pressure, along with the rise of the internet, things are changing.

Look at MSNBC - It’s shift to the right is dramatic. Donahue is gone, Jesse Ventura is in. Michael Savage has been hired on. Joe Scarborough, a conservative ex-politician, has been moved down into primetime. Brit Hume has a show. The only ‘liberal’ left on that network seems to be Chris Matthews on Hardball, but he is simply one of the best interviewers on television and maintains a pretty balanced stance on most issues.

I will definitely identify as a liberal, however, anymore, it seems that people are afraid to admit to being liberals in our country.

A damn shame.

Where do Conservatives learn about politics?

What do you mean, liberals don’t have any places to go? I think you’ve got it backwards - lots of place for liberals open up, but liberals don’t go there. It’s not a lack of supply - it’s a lack of demand. Liberals aren’t interested. Mario Cuomo tried to go up against Rush - he was slaughtered. Donahue tried to go against O’Reilly - he was slaughtered.

MSNBC would love to be a liberal network. It’s owned in part by Microsoft, and Bill Gates is a liberal. It started out over on the left. But its ratings sank like a stone, and it’s been forced to move to the right or go out of business.

I don’t think it’s a stupid thread. I think this is an important trend, regardless of the reasons WHY it’s happening. Feel free to tell me that Liberals get their information in colleges and conservatives are all high school dropouts. Throw out some theories. But it seems to me that the data we have is very concrete, and the trends are very big and not likely to be noise. When it comes to policy issues and analysis, conservatives just seem to be much more engaged than liberals. Maybe it’s because the liberal mind is more attuned to literature and the arts, and conservatives are more concrete and interested in economics and political science.

Maybe it’s that conservatives feel that they have to justify their beliefs, while liberals think the correctness of what they believe in is self-evident, and so they don’t feel the need to read about it. Maybe liberals are just more smug about their beliefs.

But if were a liberal, this trend would worry the crap out of me. Because groups that become self-satisfied and smug, while their opponents are busy honing their arguments and studying, are in trouble.

Or maybe it’s that liberals have ‘won’, and gotten most of what they want. So they’ve abandoned politics. Conservatives are on the attack, so they’re engaged. Maybe 30 years ago these poll numbers would have been reversed.

I guess my point was that, very few liberals, including perhaps myself, would self-identify as such due to both their desire to not pigeonhole things and due to not wanting to be classified as a “hated” liberal, as per the above posters.

So, if there IS any truth to the OP’s assertion, perhaps it is in that those liberals who are LESS educated, tend to self-identify as liberals more readily, since more education tends to open one’s eyes and throw off previously rigid classification schema.

Sam I’ll do you one better, not only will I tell you where I learn about politics, I’ll lay out the red carpet.

New York Times
Google News
Drudge Report
NPR News
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace News
International Crisis Group
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Economic Policy Institute
Jubilee Economic Justice Campaign
18 Ways to Hate Your Neighbour
School of Americas Watch
BBC World

Let me know if you read anything that sways you. :wink:

Looks a lot like my reading list, cainxinth, if you added NRO, Policy Review, Reason, and a few others.

I should add that I don’t think any of this applies to the people on this board. People who come to Great Debates to discuss policy issues are by definition engaged. So don’t misunderstand - I’m not claiming that the liberals on the Straight Dope are less informed than the conservatives. You can’t take broad societal trends and apply them to small selected groups like this.

And Ludovic, you’re still missing my point. Forget about the people who self-proclaim to be liberals. Just look at the success of ‘left’ media versus ‘right’ media. So it’s irrelevant what people call themselves when we have that kind of evidence. When in a typical week 8 out of 10 books on the bestseller list are ‘conservative’ books, that’s indicative of something regardless of what people call themselves.