February 27, 2003

The drift of public mood…

Jack Shafer points to a facinating study of news consuming habits in his column about why MSNBC cancelled Phil Donahue’s show. Shafer claims the cancellation may be attributed to who watches cable news: conservatives.

According to the study, a greater percentage of self-identified conservatives “regularly watch, read, or listen to” news and information from a wide range of specific outlets than those who self-identify as liberals. Of the media listed in the graphic “Audience Ideology Profile,” self-identified liberals are the greater percentage of the audience for just one category: literary magazines. Hmmmm…

It’s difficult to image that liberals are not consuming news and information or that liberals make up such a tiny portion of the population. Rather, as the party structure of politics continues to erode, an ever-increasing number of people self-identify as “moderate” or “independent.” The terms “liberal” and “conservative” (as often applied to party identification) swing in and out of popularity with shifts in the public mood. Without a strong party structure in a citizen’s day-to-day experience of politics, similar to situations earlier in our history, citizens now drift back and forth across a broad moderate zone of ideology.

At the moment, the drift appears to be to the right of that zone. It would be folly to suppose that the public mood will loiter very long in any particular zone.

UPDATE (12:35 p.m.): Tapped offers a round-up of reasons for Phil’s demise.

6 Responses

  1. Bruce Rheinstein 

    Talk radio is more personality than politics driven. To the extent that politics plays a part, but it is most often cartoonish — more entertainment than left or right.

    If one includes NPR, Radio Pacifica, PBS, etc. into the mix, it’s hard to argue that the left has been unable to gain a foothold in broadcast media.

    Ultimately, as Eric Alterman observed, Donahue’s show was unwatchable. It didn’t fail because they never gave him a chance. In fact, his viewership fell significantly from when it first went on the air. It fell because Donahue was never able to connect with a sizeable audience.

  2. While I agree with much of your comment, I did see in the news (I think in Slate) that Donahue’s numbers had gone up in the past few weeks…higher than Chris Matthews’. Assuming that’s accurate information, it certainly complicates the situation.

    As for unwatchable…I saw if maybe three times. Seemed like standard fare to me (which I consider unwatchable).

  3. Self-identified liberals are outnumbered 2 to 1 in most polls. It has also been observed by quite a few people that there’s a genuine intellectual stagnation on the left, and not just by rigid conservative ideologues.

    But as it happens, people who lean Republican are more likely to self-identify as “independents” than people who lean Democrat. Polls show this pretty consistently, as does the fact that registered Democrats significantly outnumber registered Republicans, but in every election for the last 10 years the parties have been at near-parity.

    My own belief is that the left in this country is badly in need of a severe re-evaluation. Either that, or as others have noted, the left of today is dead, and the future conflict is between libertarian conservatives and transnational progressives. Which, strictly speaking, we should refer to as “the left” and “the right” respectively, but which we will probably reverse, as is often the case in the U.S.

  4. Self-identified liberals are outnumbered 2 to 1 in most polls. It has also been observed by quite a few people that there’s a genuine intellectual stagnation on the left, and not just by rigid conservative ideologues.

    But as it happens, people who lean Republican are more likely to self-identify as “independents” than people who lean Democrat. Polls show this pretty consistently, as does the fact that registered Democrats significantly outnumber registered Republicans, but in every election for the last 10 years the parties have been at near-parity.

    My own belief is that the left in this country is badly in need of a severe re-evaluation. Either that, or as others have noted, the left of today is dead, and the future conflict is between libertarian conservatives and transnational progressives. Which, strictly speaking, we should refer to as “the left” and “the right” respectively, but which we will probably reverse, as is often the case in the U.S.

  5. Bruce Rheinstein 

    “I did see in the news (I think in Slate) that Donahue’s numbers had gone up in the past few weeks…higher than Chris Matthews’.”

    Donahue, who was supposed to be MSNBC’s secret weapon, was running a distant third in his Cable News niche. His numbers may have improved slightly from their lowest point, but they never recovered to respectable levels – and I suspect that was because he was finding an audience with some of the anti-war crowd.

    One of my dirty secrets is that I was dragged to the tapings of two of his shows in the 80s, where I sat in the audience. I begged off going to a third.

    I couldn’t stand him then and I certainly can’t stand him now. It wasn’t so much his politics, which were not as outspoken as they are now, but his sanctimony.

    As for Matthews, I would hazard that they probably keep him on because his show produces news and is watched by influential people. The same could not be said for Donahue.

  6. Rebecca 

    Bruce–your confession is too tantalizing–did you see the Boy George Show, the Phil In a Dress Show, the Skinheads Who Vote for Democrats Show—give us some details please!!