Republicans Who Do Not Regularly Watch Fox Are Less Likely to Back Trump

Republicans who get their news from nonconservative mainstream media outlets are less likely to support Donald J. Trump than those who follow conservative outlets. And sizable numbers from the first group say they think Mr. Trump acted criminally, according to a recent New York Times/Siena College poll.

This division could affect his standing among Republicans in the general electorate — a decidedly different group from G.O.P. primary voters. That is in line with research that shows that changing the media habits of Fox News consumers may actually change their views.

One hundred percent of the Republicans in our poll who said they got their news from Fox News or other conservative sources said they intended to support Mr. Trump in the general election. This stands in contrast to Republicans whose main media sources are outlets like CNN and major news organizations: Seventy-nine percent of them plan to vote for Mr. Trump, and 13 percent said they planned to vote for President Biden.

And across many measures, mainstream media Republicans are less supportive of Mr. Trump. They are 20 percentage points less likely than conservative media Republicans to say they are enthusiastic about Mr. Trump as the party’s nominee and more than 30 percentage points less likely to say Mr. Trump’s policies have helped them personally.

Despite the perception that most Republicans watch Fox News, the share of Republicans who said they got their news from sources like CNN and major newspapers was similar to the share who said they primarily consumed conservative media — roughly 30 percent in each case.

These Republicans differ from consumers of conservative media primarily in terms of their ideology: They were much more likely to describe themselves as politically moderate. Nikki Haley had about 30 percent support among these Republicans and 4 percent among conservative media consumers (the poll was taken before Ms. Haley dropped out of the race).

Researchers have long pondered a kind of chicken-and-egg question with conservatism and conservative media: Does watching more conservative media change your views, or are you more attracted to it because of your views? Two political scientists, David Broockman at Berkeley and Joshua Kalla at Yale, conducted an experiment trying to answer that question.

“We know from our other research that many Fox News viewers are in an echo chamber and are quite conservative,” Mr. Broockman said. “There’s a lot of skepticism that strong partisans could not be persuaded and we wanted to challenge that assumption.”

In their experiment, they randomly assigned Fox News viewers to watch CNN for a month, comparing their political views after they switched to the network with Fox viewers who did not make the switch. The result? Getting conservative news viewers to watch mainstream news caused many of the participants to shift away from hard-right views on a number of issues like immigration and race relations. And they found changes in how participants evaluated Mr. Trump.

“It was amazing to see that the study participants learned new facts about the world from watching CNN,” Mr. Kalla said. “These are people who don’t trust CNN; they think it’s propaganda and fiction.

“The fact that they find that these people, in particular, learn something new about the world suggests that they’re more open to persuasion and hearing the other side than we might assume.”

Participants did not just move toward moderate views on issues like immigration; they also started to question their trust in Fox News itself. At the end of the study, respondents were less likely to agree with the statement: “If Donald Trump did something bad, Fox News would discuss it.”

Experiments like this have little real-world application, but they do reinforce the notion that conservative news viewers see the current political landscape through a different lens.

This extends to how Republicans are thinking about the criminal charges their party’s nominee faces. Republicans who consume nonconservative mainstream media were more likely to say that the charges against Mr. Trump were legitimate, that Mr. Trump knowingly made false claims about the election being stolen, and that he should be found guilty in the election interference trial in Washington, according to a December survey.

And in the recent survey, the gap between the two types of Republicans persists. Republicans who watch mainstream media are over three times as likely to say Mr. Trump acted criminally as those who consume conservative media. And the share of mainstream media Republicans saying this has grown over the last two years, reaching a peak of 43 percent in December. It is now down to 34 percent.

“I do think that concealing private documents with perhaps the intent to disseminate them is to an extent treason,” said Briana Dunbar, 20, a political science student at Ohio State who says she is considering supporting Mr. Trump in the fall. “If he is found guilty, I will not vote for him.”

“But I’m not the judge and it’s not up to me,” added Ms. Dunbar, who said she gets most of her news from ABC News or her political science classes. “Once the ruling comes down, I will trust what they say. If he’s not guilty, that’s probably who I would vote for. But November is a ways away.”

While a notable share of these mainstream media Republicans say they do not plan to back Mr. Trump, many could ultimately decide to vote for him in November. In 2016, after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Mr. Trump was recorded boasting about groping women, many in the party considered deserting him. Even most of those voters found a way back to their party’s nominee.

Among conservative media Republicans, the share who said Mr. Trump did not commit crimes has remained largely unchanged.

Nateasha Friesen, 56, of Fresno, Calif., is an avid consumer of news from places like Newsmax and The Epoch Times, news outlets that she says are “not the media telling me what to think and instead allowing me to make an educated decision for myself.”

“I triangulate the information that I’m getting, with a focus on figuring out what their sources are and the transparency that they’re providing,” she said.

Ms. Friesen plans to support Mr. Trump in the fall. “My views on this have been very steady: He has not committed any crimes. I’m pretty confident the trials are politically motivated.”

About 10 percent of independents say they watch conservative news, and nearly all of them say they lean toward the Republican Party.

A much smaller group of Republicans surveyed — around 13 percent — primarily got their news from social media. This group supported Mr. Trump at a rate as high as those consuming conservative media, but they were more inclined to agree with mainstream media Republicans that Mr. Trump committed crimes. Still, this group saw the charges as primarily politically motivated.

But these social media Republicans were far younger than other Republicans. They were also less likely to say they planned to vote in November.

The New York Times/Siena College poll of 980 registered voters nationwide was conducted on cellular and landline telephones, using live interviewers, from Feb. 25 to 28, 2024. The margin of sampling error for the presidential ballot choice question is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points among registered voters. Cross-tabs and methodology are available here.