Noting that consumers access a range of sources for information about the economy—discussions with friends, their own experiences, and what they read or hear—Dr. Joanne Hsu, who directs the University of Michigan’s survey of consumers—recently broke out the sources that go into the “news heard” component of the survey. Apparently prompted by that fact that consumers reporting that they had heard bad news about inflation was “much higher,” in 2022 than it was during the “objectively worse” inflation periods of the 1970s, her team asked respondents open-ended questions about news sources from January through April.

NBUnfavorable news about prices hit just 20% in the 1970s, and topped out at 35% in 2022. 

Top sources, all over 30%, were mainstream news, general/other news, and general/other internet, followed by discussions with friends, family and co-workers, about 20%. Business news was mentioned by about 18% of respondents, and partisan sources by about 15%. Social media followed at about 13%, and just 10% of consumers mentioned the stock market, or their own experiences as sources.

Consumers who rely on their own and friends’ experiences have the lowest favorability ratings, which Hsu points out may well be because they are the most vulnerable, with fewer holding college degrees, and lowest median incomes. Those who read mainstream or business news, or follow the stock market, have highest levels of educational attainment and median incomes, and report most favorably on what they read. Those who rely on what Hsu calls the “catch-all” categories are close to the average, which she believes is because the sources are diverse.

But if you break out Democrats, Independents and Republicans, all hell breaks loose. Half of Democratic respondents, 27% of Independents, and just 16% of Republicans follow the mainstream news. Although shares by party for those who follow general sources and the internet are within the same range, those are the most common sources among Republicans, 38% and 37%. About 20% of Republicans follow partisan sources, as do 15% of Democrats. As you might guess, Independents are least likely to follow such news.

Although hearing more upbeat news is tied with higher sentiment, Hsu suggests the need for follow-up research on whether that is the product of bias confirmation. In any case, assessing partisan sources is associated with lower net favorability of news heard, and lower sentiment, among Republicans, and higher levels among Democrats. Among Democrats who mention partisan sources, net favorability of news heard is 143, and sentiment 110, among Republicans who mention partisan sources, net assessment is 31, and sentiment, 53. Democratic assessment and sentiment falls among those with no mention of partisan sources, 123 and 99, and rises among Republicans, 47 and 65.

AllSides Media Bias Chart: Read it and weep.

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