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How Media Habits Relate to Voter Participation

Insights into how media diets influence whether eligible voters will cast a ballot in November.

Downtown NEWS
Sep 9 · 3 min read

The Knight Foundation just released a study of more than 4,000 chronic nonvoters, and a comparison sample of 1,000 active voters, to learn how American media consumption habits may impact attitudes around politics, elections and voting in 2020. The study draws from the original 100 Million Project survey of over 12,000 nonvoters and a companion survey of over 1,000 active voters.

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In February 2020, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released the 100 Million Project, a landmark study that surveyed 12,000 chronic non-voters nationally and in ten swing states in order to explore the underlying challenges of electoral participation. Americans who don’t vote in elections — approaching 100 million and comprising roughly 43% of eligible voters as of the last presidential election in 2016 — differ from active voters along a wide range of attitudes and behaviors related to voting, elections and politics.

The 100 Million Project tried to help dispel assumptions about non-voters. By bringing to life this diverse group and their views on politics, the study is a call to energize a new generation of engaged citizens, and ensure all citizens have a voice in our democracy.

The Media

The report starts pointing out that the media environment during an election year has the potential to guide citizens toward informed participation in the democratic process. It can also turn people off from voting altogether. It can enlighten or mislead the electorate — sometimes doing both at once.

Key Findings

· Conservative news consumers are more fired up to vote in the presidential election.

· People who rely on social media for news are less likely to vote.

· Young nonvoters are more likely to passively “bump into” news, rather than seeking it out.

· People are more engaged with national news than local news.

The report’s data helps understand that not every nonvoter is disillusioned about voting, and whether and how much they consume news has a direct correlation on their decision to vote. “That’s why Knight launched this survey — to find out about the correlation between media consumption and voter turnout, and what implications might be for cultivating an informed and participative citizenry,” observed Evette Alexander, Director of Learning and Impact at the Knight Foundation. And she adds: “We hope this survey provokes insightful conversation and debate about news consumption and voting during this historic election.”

While the findings offer reasons for optimism, a warning: As younger adults and the generations that follow them find their place in a democratic society, the media they consume — driven by social media and their informal networks — is clearly playing a lead role in shaping their political knowledge. It is not yet clear whether or how these media diets will equip Americans on the sidelines to participate in this most critical civic duty.

Download a full version of the report How Media Habits Relate to Voter Participation.

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