Florida poll set out to find how voters get their news. It revealed big differences along age, gender and party lines.

When young Florida voters turn to social media for current events, they most often turn to TikTok. Older voters go to Facebook.

Cable TV is the biggest news source for Florida Republicans. Democrats are much more likely to turn to broadcasters ABC, CBS and NBC, and also to newspapers.

And men are far more likely than women to strongly distrust the mainstream media.

The portrait of how Florida voters consume media, how they use the information, and the sources they trust comes from polling released this week by Florida Atlantic University’s PolCom Lab and the polling firm Mainstreet Research.

FAU/Mainstreet asked Florida voters about top-of-mind current events, and found former President Donald Trump 20 points ahead of Gov. Ron DeSantis among the state’s Republicans and a wide gulf between Democrats and Republicans on the DeSantis vs. Disney feud.

Half the questions probed voter’s news and information habits and perceptions.

“It’s important to understand the mechanisms that help people choose in a democratic system. What do they consume, how do they consume it, and now does it influence their attitudes?” said Kevin Wagner, an FAU political scientist and polling expert. “It gives us insight into what makes democracy stable and functioning.”

Some findings confirm logical hunches: Voters 65 and older — an age group that includes many people who are retired and have available time — spend much more time consuming news than younger voters.

Other findings, such as differences between men and women in consumption and trust in media, were more intriguing, said Wagner and Carol Bishop Mills, director of FAU’s School of Communication and Multimedia Studies.

“It is really fascinating that women are consuming and processing this information differently than men,” Mills said. “I didn’t expect it to be that different.”

Why that’s taking place will be the subject of more research, the researchers said.

Paying attention

The FAU/Mainstreet poll found 35% of all voters reported spending two or more hours a day consuming news. For people 65 and older, it was 45%.

There were small differences between how much time Democrats and Republicans spent consuming news every day and every week.

But independents were far less likely to spend lots of time on news; 26% of independents reported spending two hours or more a day.

“People are consuming political news,” Mills said. The survey found 90% said they consume at least a few hours each week.

“Voters are trying to be at least somewhat informed. How they do that or the narrowness or breadth or deputy might vary by group, but I thought it was interesting that people reported an interest,” she said.

Most political news

Media technology and people cutting the cord and abandoning cable television are getting a lot of attention, but cable was the main source used by Florida voters to get most of their political news.

It was the No. 1 choice for 35% of Florida voters.

Older voters reported far more reliance on cable news than younger voters. It was the first choice of 13% of voters aged 18-34, 20% of voters aged 35-49, 40% aged 50-64, and 52% of those 65 and older.

Wagner said the importance of cable to Florida voters may be unique to the state, in part because it has an older population.

“Younger people are just much more likely to go to streaming services and watch media on their devices,” Mills said. “They are just much more connected to their personal devices than they are their TV sets,” Mills said.

Social media was the top choice of 13% of voters. It was the first choice of a much higher share – 32% – of those aged 18-24.

By comparison, social media was the top choice of 15% of people aged 25-49, 10% for people 50-64, and 2% for people 65 and older.

There were significant differences in where Democrats and Republicans get their news.

Cable was the first choice of Republicans (44%), Democrats (32%), and independents (21%).

Network TV was the top choice of 27% of Democrats, 10% of Republicans, and 18% of independents. Wagner said the importance of cable for Republican voters stood out.

As for social media, Democrats (10%) and Republicans (11%) making it their top choice was essentially tied. But social media was the choice for 22% of independents.

Related findings:

  • There was little difference in reliance on local TV news (8% overall) among Democrats, Republicans and independents.
  • Overall, 6% cited newspapers as their top choice. But there were political differences, with 10% of Democrats, 3% of Republicans and 2% of independents citing newspapers.
  • Podcasts were the main source for 7% of voters, with higher reliance by men than women and much higher among voters under 50 and much less among voters older than 50.

Trust in news

Florida voters had much less trust in “mainstream news media” than in “local news media.”

Mills said voters “really distrust mainstream media. They tend to be talking more about national media, and have significantly more trust in their local media.”

“Mainstream media” has long been defined as traditional established organizations, such as television networks and newspapers that provide fact-based journalism. The term has evolved in recent years as it’s been used by some Republican politicians and conservative media outlets to criticize what they assert is liberal bias in national mainstream outlets. By their nature, poll questions are limited in length, so they didn’t define mainstream or local news media, Wagner said.

Mainstream media was trusted strongly by 10%, somewhat trusted by 26%, somewhat distrusted by 21%, and strongly distrusted by 33%.

There was a large gender gap, with 45% of men reporting they “strongly distrust” mainstream media, compared to 20% of women.

Among women, 26% “somewhat” distrusted mainstream media compared to 16% of men. And 29% of women said they somewhat trusted mainstream media compared to 23% of men.

“I don’t have a great explanation for it, but it definitely was there, much greater distrust than men,” Wagner said.

There was an even larger difference between Democrats and Republicans.

A total of 53% of Republicans, 13% of Democrats and 29% of independents “strongly distrust” mainstream media. And 14% of Democrats and independents, but just 4% of Republicans “strongly trust” mainstream media.

Voters have far more trust in local news media, a finding Wagner said “jumped out at me.”

Local news media was strongly trusted by 14%, somewhat trusted by 45%, somewhat distrusted by 19% and strongly distrusted by 13% of Florida voters.

Women were somewhat more trusting of local news than men, but the gender gap wasn’t on the scale of the difference in views of mainstream media.

There were political differences, however.

  • Democrats: 22% strongly trust, 54% somewhat trust, 14% somewhat distrust and 4% strongly distrust local news media.
  • Republicans: 8% strongly trust, 40% somewhat trust, 22% somewhat distrust and 24% strongly distrust local media.
  • Independents: 14% strongly trust, 38% somewhat trust, 26% somewhat distrust, and 9% strongly distrust local media.

Social media

Facebook was the top social media choice, with 18% reporting it was the platform they use most for understanding current events.

And, Mills said, social media’s impact is even greater than the percentage makes it seem, considering many people get at least some of their information from social media, even if it isn’t their No. 1 choice.

Women (22%) were much more likely than men (13%) to cite Facebook as their top choice.

It was the top choice of just 7% of voters aged 18-34, 13% aged 35-49, 22% of people aged 50 to 64 and 22% of 65 and older.

The video-sharing platform YouTube was the choice of 11%. People younger than 65 reported somewhat higher use than those 65 and older, but there weren’t dramatic differences.

Video-sharing app TikTok stood out. It was the first choice of 7% of voters — with an enormous age difference.

Among voters aged 18-34, 23% said TikTok is the social media platform they use most for understanding current events, compared to 10% for aged 35-49, 3% aged 50-64, and 1% for people 65 and older.

The difference in ages of people citing Facebook and TikTok isn’t a surprise, said Mills, who studies relational and interpersonal communication. “Younger people don’t want to be in places where older people are dominating the narratives.”

Differences among Democrats, Republicans and independents were generally negligible, with two exceptions.

TikTok was the top choice of 9% of Democrats and 11% of independents, compared to 4% of Republicans. And 6% of Republicans named Trump’s Truth Social platform as their No. 1 choice. Fewer than 1% of Democrats cited Truth Social as their top choice.

A large share — 23% — said they don’t use social media, but there was a big variance based on age: 10% of those aged 18-34 said they didn’t use social media compared to 37% of voters 65 and older.

Political silos

Democrats and Republicans were different in what kind of information they wanted to receive, and what they did with information once they got it. Many people are in political silos, not interacting with people who have different views.

“There is a great deal of siloing,” Wagner said. “Siloing is a real issue.”

And, Wagner said, “You did see a distinct difference between Republicans and Democrats.”

A total of 22% of voters said they prefer getting news from sources that share their point of view. There were marked differences, however, with 28% of Republicans, 20% of Democrats and 15% of independents saying they wanted information from sources that align with their viewpoints.

The poll found 52% said they prefer getting news from sources that don’t have a particular point of view, a view held by 56% of Democrats, 49% of Republicans and 49% of independents.

The poll found that when voters talk to other people about political news they’ve consumed, they differ on who they talk to.

Republicans are more likely to talk about political news with people who generally agree with them.

Democrats and independents are far more likely than to talk about political news with people who sometimes agree — and sometimes disagree — with them.

Talk to people with whom they generally agree — 25% overall; Democrats, 22%; Republicans, 32%; independents 15%.

Talk to people with whom they sometimes agree and sometimes disagree — 56% overall; Democrats, 61%; Republicans, 45%; independents, 73%.

The fine print

The poll was conducted June 27 to July 1 by Mainstreet Research for Florida Atlantic University’s PolCom Lab, which is a collaboration of the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies and Department of Political Science.

The survey used automated telephone interviews with 933 Florida voters. The overall survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Because subgroups (such as Democrats and Republicans or men and women) are smaller than in the overall poll, the margins of error are higher. The margin of error in the FAU/Mainstream/PolCom Lab poll is 5 percentage points for Democrats, 6 points for Republicans and 7 points for independents.

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com, on Twitter @browardpolitics and on Post.news/@browardpolitics.

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