Monday, January 10, 2011

Conservative Personalities

Fox News blows away the competition. I remember seeing a statistic that showed it had more viewers than the next three cable news networks combined. When it comes to radio, the top three spots are held solidly by conservatives. No one else even comes close.

If you were to judge which way America leaned politically according to the viewership of cable news and radio, you would assume America was firmly in the hands of conservatives. Yet, elections tend to be close. Congress regularly passes power from one side to the other.

So what is up with those cable/radio numbers?

As I churned over the discussions I had over the past few days, and recalled some recent conversations and incidences, I came up with a theory - People on the Right tend to have more emotional investment in their "celebrities" than do people on the Left.  Therefore, they watch and listen more.

Here are some observations (this is still an idea in progress).

Last spring I had a conversation with a friend and at some point Fox News came up. I made some disparaging remark about Fox's quality of news. My friend paused and said, "Ya know... I am kind of insulted by that."

"Why?" I replied.

"Well, I watch Fox News and I like it," he said.

"So how does that translate to my insulting you?" I questioned.

"Well, how would you feel if I trash-talked MSNBC?" he responded.

I shrugged, "I gotta say, I honestly wouldn't care."

I realized in that moment that we didn't just hold different positions, the way in which we held them was completely different.

A similar event happened over the summer. I was with another friend and the discussion drifted to politics. My friend referenced something Hannity had said recently.

I grinned, looked at a passing car, and made some statement about Hannity and the other two telling so many lies over the years that they can no longer differentiate truth.

When I looked back at my friend his face had gone red and all of the muscles in his neck had tightened. It looked like his eyes were about to pop from his head.  I recalled what had happened last spring and I realized my pronouncement had been like a slap to him!

My friend was gracious enough to turn the other cheek, and we quickly moved on to other topics.

I have seen this play out in numerous Facebook conversations over the past two years. The largest spikes in harsh rhetoric tended to follow someone making a critical remark about Fox News, Palin, Beck, etc...

As I look back on my own past, back when I was a Dittohead, I had similar reactions. Someone could critique this or that policy.... but if someone put-down Rush? Yeah, I got defensive! I was proud that I had gone to the "Rush to Excellence" tour. There was emotional investment there.

Yet today, when I think about it, there is no "liberal" personality that I am that attached to. If someone critiqued Moore, or Maher, or the President, etc... I may think their critiques are wrong, but I wouldn't be insulted by it. In fact, there are issues that those personalities hold to that I could be equally critical of.

And so, my theory of why the ratings of these shows are so comparatively high. For some reason, many on the Right form a deeper emotional investment into their "celebrities" than those on the Left. Critiquing one of the Right's center-stage personalities is taken as a personal critique. On the Right, there is more of a "team" bonding occurring. Not that there aren't exceptions on both sides, but I think this is generally the case.

What do you think?

** I have to add this note.  I was just de-friended by another of my more staunch Right-wing friends on Facebook.  This kind of defriending  has happened a number of times in the past few years.  Though they make Right-wing pronouncements regularly, it would never occur to me to defriend them over it.  Yet my often left-leaning views become too much for them to tolerate, and once again I find myself voted off the island. :)


Redlefty said...

Maybe it's because by nature conservatism can create bonds by protecting things (status quo, traditions, values, etc...).

Progressives by nature are looking for change, and the exact type of change is hard to agree on.

It's a guess!

Andrew said...

I think that is a great guess! There seems to be more potential for inherent commonalities within conservatism. I think that is why I keep getting defriended. :) The differences I have had with those who defriended me stood out much more starkly to them than they did to me.

Steve H. said...


I couldn't agree more. I thought this is an excellent post but as I "muse" over why that is the case, a theory forms. (Like you, a thought in process)

I don't subscribe to the "liberal bias in media" but I think there is a general "bias" in pop culture across the board that favors a more "progressive" worldview. On TV today you will see people sleeping together before marriage, gay couples, sexual inuendo to the extreme in most modern shows (just as examples). I read Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker every week and the "default" position in cultural areas across the board tend to favor a worldview that is not what conservatives want to see. Hence, conservatives are on the defensive alot more than the liberals as the weight of history is heading away from them and toward the "others".

Then, they turn of Fox News and they hear that its OK to think that certain conservative social values are OK...Heck, I'm even lulled in sometimes. Its a breath of fresh air...but for me it last just a minute and then Sean Hannity starts talking and the whole moment is destroyed

Andrew said...

"and then Sean Hannity starts talking and the whole moment is destroyed"

Now that was funny. I really did lol.

You raise some good angles too Steve.

Cody Stauffer said...

Steve, while I can agree with you on most of what you said, I think it is a misleading stereotype to equate the things you are seeing on TV like sex before marriage and sexual innuendo with liberal or progressive ideals. To me, that is an issue of decency and morality, not liberal vs. conservative politics (the gay couple thing, yeah). In fact, here in Payette County, the stand for decency and morality is the biggest common ground between the progressives and conservatives here. They disagree on health care, for example, but by and large a huge portion of them agree on things like TV ratings, too much violence in music, and less innuendo. In fact, I think you could probably flip your statement a bit- those who tend to push the envelope in terms of artistic expression also seem to trend towards being progressive in their politics, but being progressive in your politics does not equate with pushing the boundaries of decency and morality, in art or otherwise. I believe that many progressives, in fact, fought for things like ratings systems and educating parents about what their children might be consuming, while still maintaining levels of free speech and expression.

Just thought I would put my two cents in on that, at least!

Cody Stauffer said...

However, I do now note your use of quotation marks around the term progressive, so I see you may have been implying there is a difference. Sorry!

Anonymous said...

Nice insight Andrew. I, too, have had many, many conversations that quickly escalate into emotional charged responses that completely catch me off guard. You're probably letting liberals off the hook a little easy, though, because there are certainly those out there that fire away as easily and as emotionally charged as the other side, but I just think it would be hard to argue against the fact that that kind of response is more typical from conservative folks than liberal folks.

As a Christian (and a pacifist), I just don't see much edifying in political talk shows. I encourage our church, as often as I can, to fast from political media. We have old folks who sit and watch and listen to that inflammatory rhetoric all day long and then spend an hour or so on Sundays listening to the peaceful way of Christ . . . and somehow see in him their political agendas.

What I have been particularly bothered by in recent weeks is the voice from the conservatives who have their new found power making strong statements that "the people have spoken" and they hear loudly the voice of their electorate. Problem is, as you state, most elections fall in the 55% - 45% range. There's a lot of folks out there with a different voice - but just lack the loud microphone that pervades the conservative media-waves.

Sorry for the long post - but one more thing - I know you're a drama guy - have you seen (or heard of) the Broadway play "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson"? My wife and I went to see it in NYC over the holidays - and it was incredibly relevant and provocative to these kinds of discussions. A really funny revisit of the Jacksonian/Jeffersonian debates of old. You would enjoy it!

Andrew said...

Theo - I don't mean to let liberals off easy, I think they can be just as contentious and unlistening. I think though that their anger comes up while discussing an issue eg. health care, unions,.

Where I don't think Liberals get as riled is over "celebrities". I really enjoy Bill Maher. But if a right-wing friend of mine says "I think Maher is a prejudiced, inflammatory moron!"; I think, "Hmmm, they really don't like Bill Maher!"

However, it is often the case that if I said to that same right-wing friend, "Rush Limbaugh is a lying racist." their response tends to be much more reactionary. Somewhere along the line, they developed an identification with Rush that I do not have with Bill. To say that of Rush implies it of them. They would get insulted by my comment, while I am not by theirs.

I LOVE your idea of fasting from political media!

I have not seen that play, but I will see if I can find some clips of it tonight.

Steve H. said...


I certainly agree! If I make a disparaging remark against FOX, I have friends who make it their point to defend them.

Cody: I certainly agree that it is a huge generalization to equate liberals with sexual immorality and there are many who take a strong stand (it helps once they have children)

But I still standby my assertion that the "default" position in pop culture cuts against a conservative social value. (Example) In an article this week in the New Yorker the author (writing on an unrelated topic) took a swipe at those who thought homosexuality is wrong. The default position despite the fact that half of America (and probably more) disagree with her. The ONLY place you would see something like homosexualty assumened to be "wrong" would be in a religious or designated conservative journal. Never in a standard "pop" magazine.

Don said...

I think you may be on to something Andrew. I too, was a "moderate" Dittohead, along with my wife who was drawn in more than I, hook, line, and sinker! I say that because every now and again (back then, the early 90's) I would hear Rush say something and think, is he kidding! Surely he's kidding! No, he isn't. I slowly began to distance myself from him and his ilk. My wife, however, is still and devotee to Rush and Sean...not so much Beck. I will listen or read the news from the various news outlets, and then try to distill on my own the facts. I, too, often disparage the stories coming from both ends of the political spectrum, thinking to myself, "how can they make such a statement and call it news or fact?" It seems that the job of distilling the news down to useful facts is getting harder and harder.

Unknown said...

Good & insightful article.
I think this might also be related to how much right conservative politics have brilliantly manipulated the American Christian church to believe they are fighting for the things that Jesus would be. Because so many Christians see these politics as a part of their religious beliefs, you might as well be insulting Christ himself when insulting public figures they believe are representing him. It has gotten better but I am not lying when I say I've lived most of my life thinking Bono was the only other Christian who didn't see these two things as one.

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