Your State’s Most Trusted Online News Source
How the most Googled news sources predicted how your state would vote in the 2016 electionAs the dust and shock settle after the 2016 election, we’ve engaged in lots of collective finger pointing as a nation. How did the polls and the media get it so wrong? What was the role of fake news, and did it really sway the election results? And what about the Russians? There are many questions we simply don’t have answers for—but we do have Google. And while Google can’t give us access to top-secret intelligence briefings (yet), it can tell us how people were using the internet leading up to one of the most contentious elections in our country’s history. The team at HSI (highspeedinternet.com) used Google Trends to glean data about which online news source each state trusted the most to deliver information in 2016. And as we sifted and sorted, a predictable pattern emerged (one we’ll be kicking ourselves for not noticing sooner). A state’s preferred online news source predicted the way in which that state would vote in the 2016 election with a high degree of accuracy. We submit as evidence Exhibit A, a map of the most popular online news source in each state. This data is as depressing as expected. A picture of the polarized United States of America emerges, where the deep South and much of the Midwest are steeped in the staunchly conservative Fox News. On both coasts, there are long ribbons of the densely populated cities and suburbs that tune into CNN, making up the blue backbone of the country. But the story here is in the small deviations and differences, the outliers along the rust belt and in the Midwest that are getting their online news from surprising sources. It allows us to see in hindsight not just where the presidential election was won (and lost) in 2016, but also where there might be opportunity in the future to gain ground and change the political conversation in 2020. Before we digest these morsels of insight, let’s identify the online news sources from the data and describe what, if any, political leanings these websites might have. Melania Trump recently sued the publication for insinuating she once worked as an escort. affiliation as noted by Gallup’s most recent polling. In swing states, we’ve denoted in parenthesis which party the state voted for in the 2016 presidential election.
Most Trusted News Source
|Connecticut||The Wall Street Journal||Democratic|
|District of Columbia||CNN||(Democratic)|
|Indiana||USA Today||Lean Republican|
|Kansas||The Washington Post||Republican|
|Maine||NBC News||Competitive (Democratic)|
|Massachusetts||The Wall Street Journal||Democratic|
|Michigan||USA Today||Competitive (Republican)|
|Mississippi||USA Today||Lean Republican|
|Missouri||USA Today||Lean Republican|
|Nevada||Mail Online||Competitive (Democratic)|
|New Hampshire||ABC News||Lean Republican|
|New York||The Wall Street Journal||Democratic|
|North Carolina||Fox||Competitive (Republican)|
|Ohio||USA Today||Competitive (Republican)|
|Oregon||Washington Post||Lean Democratic|
|Pennsylvania||ABC News||Competitive (Republican)|
|Rhode Island||NBC News||Democratic|
|South Dakota||USA Today||Republican|
|West Virginia||Fox||Lean Republican|
Brand Name National News = Trust. Most of the time.Most states prefer national news sources with well-known brand names that have a presence in both TV news and online. There were also pockets of the country like New England, however, that relied upon more traditional mainstream broadcasting networks, such as NBC and ABC.
On the coasts, local newspapers are well liked.Hometown favorites dominated on both coasts, with The Wall Street Journal gaining an impressive following in and around New York. There were some surprises like The Washington Post in Oregon, and—most puzzling of all—Kansas. We’ll get back to that one later. These popular local online sources are also traditional newspaper publications rather than dedicated TV networks.
Trending regionally . . .Much of the popular online news source data tracks in exactly the same way as political affiliation, so you’ll see some of the same patterns playing out in regional trends.
- New England, where conservative New Hampshire cozies right up to liberal Vermont, prefers keeping things bipartisan with trusted networks like ABC and NBC News.
- Traditionally Republican, the South stays true to its roots with Fox, Fox, and more Fox.
- The Midwest and the Rust Belt are where the swing states live, which explains the patchwork of influences from CNN, Fox, and USA Today.
- Conservative Mountain West states like Nevada, Utah, and Montana like their news fluffy with plenty of tabloid fodder from the right-leaning Daily Mail.
- The blue states of the West are CNN country, but you’ll also see a smattering of local newspaper publications with liberal inclinations like the LA Times and The Washington Post.
- Hawaii and Alaska are a depiction of our polarized United States where Democrat Hawaii trusts CNN and red-blooded Alaskans turn to Fox.
Politics and the Media are Definitely BedfellowsMuch of the data supports the obvious conclusion that sources of news and political affiliation are closely aligned, which is decidedly not groundbreaking news. It does lead us, however, to speculate which comes first—the chicken or the egg? Do we tend to watch news that supports our political affiliation or does the news shape our political affiliation? It is likely the answer is both. We analyzed online news source data alongside state political affiliation as identified by Gallup. The results were exactly as you’d expect.
- 7 out of 12 Republican states prefer Fox. 3 out of the 8 states that Gallup indicates lean Republican use Fox, and the remaining majority prefer USA Today as their favorite online news source.
- 6 out of 11 states Gallup identifies as stomping grounds for Democrats like CNN. Gallup currently lists only 2 states as leaning Democrat, but both of those use the left-leaning sources CNN and The Washington Post.
- Out of the 5 swing states that went Democrat in the 2016 election, 3 preferred CNN. Out of the 11 swing states that turned red, 4 preferred Fox, 3 USA Today, but surprisingly, 3 also liked CNN. These three states will look familiar as 2016 election battleground states: Arizona, Wisconsin, and Florida.
Internet Speed Matters More Than You ThinkThe parallel between internet speed and political affiliation is also not a big shocker, since both largely correlate with demographics such as income and education. What is interesting, though, are the exceptions. The states with the fastest internet, as identified by the State of the Internet Report from Akamai, preferred CNN, along with other liberal sources like The Washington Post. And all voted Democrat with one glaring exception: Utah, which preferred Mail Online, is the only state ranking in the top ten when it comes to internet speed availability to go red. Interestingly, Utah also very nearly became a battleground state in the last election as wildly unpopular Trump suffered heavy losses to local independent and Mormon candidate, Evan McMullin. The slowest states, where internet speed becomes a trickle, preferred Fox by an even larger majority of five out of nine. And most went Republican in the election with two exceptions: Maine and New Mexico, which preferred CNN and NBC. New Mexico is considered a blue state by Gallup, but Maine is still up for grabs and has traditionally been more conservative. Maine splits its electoral college votes, so while Trump scored one vote out of the second district, Clinton carried the state with three. Maine also became one of the first states in the 2016 election where an elector broke with tradition and voted for someone other than his party’s nominee. Are the salty conservatives of Yankeedom poised to turn blue? Only time will tell.
As Facebook continues to battle fake news and Twitter cleans up the trolls, it becomes increasingly imperative that we take a closer look at the ways in which we consume information online and how it shapes the politics of our nation, for better or for worse. Our next election and our future will be shaped by it.