Civic engagement strongly tied to local news habits

Press Release

November 3, 2016

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Local voters and those who feel attached to their communities stand out

Washington, D.C. (Nov. 3, 2016) – The civically engaged – people who vote, volunteer and connect with those around them – play a key role in community life. Thus, how and to what degree they stay informed about their communities carries added weight.

A new Pew Research Center report, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that, overall, the civically engaged are indeed more likely than those less engaged to use and value local news. But two particular aspects of civic engagement are most closely associated with local news habits: a strong connection to one’s community and always voting in local elections. Americans with one of these two attributes consistently display stronger local news habits across a range of measures: interest, the number and types of sources turned to, and attitudes toward local news organizations.

The report examines five aspects of civic life (attachment to the local community; voting in local elections; local group and political activity; rating of the local community; and political diversity) and compares the local news habits of Americans who engage in each to those of Americans who do not. (Find the definitions of each variable here).

The roughly one-in-five U.S. adults (19%) who feel highly attached to their communities demonstrate much stronger ties to local news than those who do not feel attached. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) of the highly attached follow local news very closely – about twice the share of the unattached (27%). Fully 44% regularly get community news from three or more different source types, compared with 17% of the unattached. And about a third (35%) think their local media do a good job of keeping them informed – more than double the share of the unattached (13%).

Similar to the highly attached, those who say they always vote in local elections (27% of U.S. adults) display strikingly stronger local news habits than those who do not regularly vote in local elections. They are more likely to follow local news closely (52% of local voters compared to 31% who do not always vote), get local news from three or more source types (38% compared with 25%), follow multiple locally relevant topics (45% compared with 23%), and to approve of the job local news organizations do (27% compared with 18%) than those who do not say they always vote in local elections.

“The study allowed us to explore multiple facets of civic life, as they relate to local news habits. While we see a strong connection between civic engagement and local news habits overall, the relationship is strongest when it comes to voting and community attachment,” said Jesse Holcomb, associated director of research at Pew Research Center.

The survey was conducted Jan. 12-Feb. 8, 2016, among 4,654 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. 

Among the report’s other key findings:

  • Local groups and political activity as well as community rating show less consistent ties to news habits. The roughly one-quarter of Americans (27%) who actively participate in local groups and political activities, for example, demonstrate stronger news behaviors, but not more positive attitudes toward local news media; just 22% approve of the job their local media are doing. Americans who rate their local communities highly (29% of U.S. adults), on the other hand, have more positive views of their local news media – about three-quarters of them (77%) feel the local media are in touch with their local communities – but they express few stronger news behaviors.
  • Perceived political diversity of one’s community shows little relationship to local news habits. The seven-in-ten Americans who say they live in areas with differing political views display very similar interest in and assessment of their local news media as those who believe most people in their communities share the same political views. Roughly equal shares very closely follow multiple locally relevant news topics and neighborhood news, consume local news via most source types, and approve of the job their local media are doing.

“We’ve been inundated with national election news this year, but local elections, for many, may have a more immediate impact on daily life. By demonstrating that people who are more likely to vote in local elections are heavy consumers of local news, the study reinforces the importance of local journalism,” said Jon Sotsky, Knight Foundation director for strategy and assessment.

The full report will be for immediate release and available at: http://kng.ht/2e2U3C8

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Rachel Weisel at 202.419.4372 or [email protected].

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan “fact tank” that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This report was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for this study from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Subscribe to our daily and weekly email newsletters or follow us on our Fact Tank blog.