Americans’ Attention to National News Lowest in Four Years
Fewer Americans are paying attention to national news now than at any time since early 2018. In December 2021, a third of Americans (33%) said they pay “a great deal” of attention to national news. This percentage is the lowest in Gallup/Knight Foundation’s trend and a substantial drop from the 54% of Americans who said they paid a great deal of attention to national news in November of 2020. This finding echoes the recent trend reported by Axios that overall news engagement is down compared to 2020, citing a decline in interest in news about COVID-19 and politics. The recent drop in attention seen in the Gallup/Knight Foundation trend holds across most demographic groups but has been disproportionately pronounced among Democrats younger than 55 years of age. These findings are from a survey of 4,221 U.S. adults fielded Nov. 23-Dec. 3, 2021, who are members of Gallup’s probability-based national panel.
The percentages of Americans who said they pay “a great deal” of attention to local or international news, on the other hand, were unchanged from 2020 to 2021, at 21% and 12%, respectively. Only when asked about national news did Americans register a substantial decline in interest.
Americans’ interest in national news peaked during two critical public moments over the course of measuring the trend.
- In March of 2020, 56% of Americans reported paying a great deal of attention to national news as the COVID-19 pandemic reached a global scale. Notably, attention to local and international news increased in tandem.
- In November of 2020 – coming out of a hotly contested presidential election and amidst the continued controversy over unfounded claims of voter fraud — 54% of Americans reported paying a great deal of attention to national news.
The precipitous drop to 33% who were paying a great deal of attention to national news in December of 2021 is substantially below the median 46% averaged across the entire trending period. This drop in points is the first meaningful shift in attention to news we’ve seen during the past four years beyond any expected ebb and flow of attention following a major national or political event.
Democrats are the ones tuning out. Interest in national news is down among Americans of all political affiliations, but the decline is most pronounced among Democrats. Thirty-four percent reported paying a great deal of attention to national news in 2021, compared to 69% paying a great deal of attention in 2020 — a 35-point drop. Among Republicans, there was a slight shift to 40% — down from 45% in November of 2020. For independents, there was a modest 15-point decline to 29%. When asked which party independents lean toward, on average, about a third chose Democrat and Republican equally across the multiple study waves. Among independents who lean Democrat, 57% reported paying a great deal of attention to national news in 2020, compared to 29% in 2021 — a 28-percentage-point drop. For those who lean Republican, 38% paid a great deal of attention to national news in 2020, and this percentage held relatively steady at 36% in 2021. Thus, when mapped to the overall trend by political partisanship, the decrease in attention to news for independents was similarly driven by those who lean Democrat.
The decline in Democrats who pay a great deal of attention to national news is significant. For the first time since we began measuring this trend in early 2018, Democrats are less likely to pay attention to national news than their Republican counterparts. Previously, Democrats were substantially and consistently more likely to report interest in national news than Republicans and independents.
This shift comes about a year since the change in presidential administrations from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Among Democrats, anxiety about President Trump was high, with an average of 6% approving of his job as president. Similarly, another Gallup trend on Americans’ attention to national political news shows that Republicans paid more attention to national political news during Barack Obama’s presidency, while Democrats did so after Donald Trump took office. However, rather than seeing an increase in attention to national news by Republicans since the election of President Biden, we report a marginal decrease. Therefore, other factors may contribute to this drop, such as tuning out of news about COVID or a general sense of news “burnout” after a tumultuous year.
Peak attention among Democrats matched the overall trend high (69%) just after the November 2020 election. As one liberal-leaning focus group participant explained, “During the  presidential election, I think I was glued to the news. I was always on [fivethirtyeight.com] and refreshing constantly, trying to get the latest. I started realizing that Twitter was the place to go to get the latest related to election politics. I kind of obsessively checked it.”
This kind of “obsessive” attention to news has dramatically waned a year later. That the downward trend potentially is a function of the shift in the national political scene in the U.S. is further supported by the finding that consumption of both local and international news in 2021 remained relatively steady for all political affiliation groups.
Younger Democrats’ attention fluctuated the most over the past year. In 2021, there was a clear decrease in attention to national news among Democrats of all ages. However, there was much more volatility among younger affiliates of the party. Among Democrats aged 18-34, 24% said they pay a great deal of attention to national news in the most recent survey, down from 70% in November 2020 — a 46-point drop. This decline is followed closely by a 41-point drop, from 70% to 29%, among Democrats aged 35-54. Among the oldest Democrats (aged 55+), the decline was still substantial, though not as precipitous as among the two younger groups, falling 20 points from 68% to 48%.
November of 2020, though, shows an uncharacteristic spike in attention to national news among younger Democrats — paying “a great deal” of attention increased by 25 percentage points for the youngest Democrats (18-34) and increased by nine points among Democrats aged 35-54 compared to the previous survey wave fielded in late September/early October of 2020. The fielding dates (Nov. 9-16, 2020) of this wave align with the post-election media frenzy as then-President Trump protested the initial results of the U.S. presidential election.
Comparatively, the youngest Republicans (18-34) actually decreased in paying a great deal of attention to national news from late September/early October of 2020 compared to November by 12 percentage points and increased in their attention to national news by December of 2021 by three percentage points. Independents aged 18-34 increased in paying a great deal of attention by 10 points from late September to early November 2020, and subsequently decreased in attention to national news in line with Democrats by 24 percentage points in December of 2021 compared to November of 2020.
Over the four-year trending period, the oldest Democrats (55+) paid the most attention to news — more than younger Democrats and older Republicans (55+). However, they still saw a steep decline in paying a great deal of attention to national news between November 2020 and December 2021, by 20 percentage points. For the first time since 2018, they report the same level of paying a great deal of attention to national news as Republicans age 55+.
There were still fewer than one in five independents aged 18-34 (19%) who expressed a great deal of interest in national news. It is possible that the youngest independents may feel less politically engaged and thus less drawn to monitor national news. Young Republicans, on the other hand, were already at low levels of attention to national news to begin with; therefore, there was almost no difference in 2021.