Learning and Impact

Turning to the Names We Know: Show Hosts and Journalists Top Individuals Followed for News

This article is the second article in a three-part series. Read the first article here and the third article here.

Recent data from Gallup and Knight Foundation show that about nine in 10 Americans follow at least one public individual for news and information (see additional findings and full methodology statement here). To dig deeper, Gallup/Knight asked more than 3,800 U.S. adults to think about the one public individual they watch or follow most often and report what kind of information they get from that person and where and why they follow them.

Americans’ most followed public individuals are hosts of shows or programs and journalists.

Americans are most likely to characterize the one public individual they follow most for news and information as a program or show host, or journalist. But many also describe their most followed public figure as a social media influencer (16%), comedian (15%), scientist or expert (12%), politician or elected leader (11%), or an activist (11%).

Respondents were given an opportunity to write in the name of the one public individual they follow most. Among the 89% of Americans who follow at least one public individual, over 900 unique individual names were written in — ranging from journalists and politicians to celebrities, religious leaders and individual TikTok accounts. No single name dominates the market. These qualitative data show just how wide and diverse the public individuals are who Americans turn to most often for information. In fact, the top two most frequently cited names account for only about 6% of all respondents in the study.   

Among the more than 900 unique names written in, the public individuals named most frequently tend to be TV hosts. Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow top the list of most followed individuals, with slightly over 100 write-ins each. Each of these totals account for about 3% of respondents.

Fellow television program hosts Sean Hannity, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Lester Holt, John Oliver, David Muir and Anderson Cooper were also frequently written in, with each of these names accounting for roughly 1% of respondents each.

Hosts of non-television programs include podcaster Joe Rogan and Philip DeFranco, host of a self-titled show on YouTube. Three living U.S. presidents also make the top 20 write-ins, including President Joe Biden and his predecessors, presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Also among the most followed public figures are Biden’s former chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. These public individuals account for 1% or less of respondents each.

Americans follow public individuals for their likability and trustworthiness, and largely get commentary and analysis from them.

Americans are most likely to “agree” or “strongly agree” that they follow their top public individual because they like their personality (80%) or because they trust them (79%). Three in four Americans who wrote in a name also report they follow their top public individual because that individual offers a perspective they can’t find in traditional news outlets.

Other top reasons that Americans follow public individuals include those individuals being entertaining (70%), representing people like them (66%), and sharing beliefs and opinions that align with their own (65%).

The least likely reason Americans report following their top public individual is that the individual’s beliefs differ from their own.

Thinking about the one public individual you watch or follow most often, how much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

When asked about the kind of information they get from the public individual they follow most, Americans are most likely to say they get commentary and analysis on news or political and social issues (75%), followed by reporting of news and current events (63%). One in four say they receive information about their hobbies, career or other interests.

Television is the most common medium for following top public individuals with social media at No. 2.

About half of Americans get information from their most followed public individual via cable or streaming television shows (49%), while about four in 10 get information from this individual via social media (41%).

Meanwhile, more than one in four report getting information from their most followed individual from YouTube (32%), podcasts (27%), or the individual’s personal website, blog or newsletters (26%). Smaller percentages follow their top public individual via newspapers or magazines (20%) or radio (17%). On average, Americans report following their top public individuals across at least two mediums or platforms.

Nearly seven in 10 Americans report getting information from their most followed public individual once or more every day (21%) or a few times in the past week (46%). Twenty percent report getting information from the individual once in the past week, while 10% say they haven’t gotten information from their top public individual in the past week.

Bottom Line

Americans report turning most often to a wide variety of public individuals for information — over 900 unique names were written in response to this inquiry. And seven in 10 Americans who follow these individuals do so at least multiple times a week.

That said, hosts of shows seem to be popular public individuals followed by U.S. adults. Of the 20 individuals written in most frequently, more than half are hosts of television programs. And when combined with hosts of programs on other mediums (i.e., podcasts, radio, YouTube), three in four of these individuals are program hosts broadly.

These hosts, as well as the wide variety of public individuals followed by the American public, captivate their followers with their likability and trustworthiness. While many turn to them for the news itself, Americans are more likely to seek commentary analysis about the news from their top public individual. However, public individuals appear to be serving a need not met by traditional news sources. Three in four Americans report they follow their top public individual because that person provides them a perspective not found in traditional news outlets. Our final publication of this series will explore whether Americans have different motivations as to why they turn to their top individual most often.