Washington Post blogger and George Washington University political science professor John Sides observes today that most Americans do not consume a skewed partisan news diet, but rather are "omnivores," who largely "get news from non-partisan sources or a variety of sources." How then to explain the conservative media bubble in which the Republican Party often finds itself?
Sides cites the work of UCLA's Michael LaCour and his graph indicating whether news consumption had a partisan skew. Take a look at the bottom right corner (emphasis added).
While most members of both parties are clustered about the axis, indicating that they have a fairly balanced news diet, there's also a sizable bulge of Republicans who consume significantly more conservative media than they do liberal media (LaCour's study codes Fox News as conservative and both MSNBC and CNN as liberal). According to LaCour's study, nine percent of Republicans consume predominantly conservative news.
That small minority appears to constitute the Fox News regulars, the ones who have built the network into a ratings juggernaut. To sustain and grow that audience, the network feeds it a regular diet of Obama administration smears, right-wing conspiracies, and culture war grievances.
Republican leaders become trapped in the conservative media bubble when they come to believe that the stories highlighted by those partisan outlets - geared to appeal to that nine percent of Republicans - actually constitutes the agenda that most Americans care about. This was a frequent problem for the Mitt Romney campaign and the GOP in general during the 2012 election, to the point that the Republican National Committee's election post-mortem warned that the party needed to stop "talking to itself." The party got itself into trouble again in recent weeks after following the right-wing media into a disastrous shutdown strategy.
Meanwhile, plans to stop climate change, reduce deficits, and reform immigration are stymied by the same phenomenon as Republican leaders warn of Fox News and the conservative media's ability to drive controversy among their audiences and kill legislation.
All for nine percent of Republicans.