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New 60 Second Marketer Study: Do Conservatives or Liberals Own the Airwaves?

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Not long ago, I was having a fun and engaging dinner debate about politics with our neighbors across the street. I love those kinds of conversations — I grew up in a household where dinner talk was about history, religion and politics, so having spirited debates with friends is one of my favorite things to do.

At one point during the conversation, one of the guests made the oft-quoted statement that, “The airwaves are dominated by the liberal media.” It’s something I’ve heard dozens or perhaps hundreds of times in my life. I took his comment to mean that liberal programs on MSNBC, National Public Radio and others reach more people than conservative programs on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others.

Since that claim has to do with ratings and since ratings have to do with marketing (which is our focus), I put a member of the 60 Second Marketer team named Shenaz Lilywala to work on an important assignment. I asked her to do an analysis of the ratings to see if, in fact, the airwaves are dominated by the liberal media, as is commonly stated.

Methodology Behind the Research

It’s worth noting that I’ve voted for Republicans about as many times as I’ve voted for Democrats, so I have no agenda in this research other than to find out if, in fact, it’s true that the airwaves are dominated by the liberal media.

To find the answer, our team sat down and crunched numbers to get to the heart of the matter. Our first goal was to divide the different networks and programs into two buckets — conservative and liberal.

Dropping Fox News into the conservative bucket and MSNBC into the liberal bucket was pretty easy. And, while some people might consider CNN a centrist network, we decided to put CNN and other similar networks into the liberal bucket.

We also dropped the network news shows including CBS News, ABC News and NBC News into the liberal bucket.

From there, we used the average weekly primetime viewership during the month of January 2014 to arrive at the viewership numbers for the cable news channels such as Fox and CNN. For the broadcast news networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), we took the data from the 19 weeks leading up to the week of February 2nd, 2014 to arrive at an average weekly viewership for their programs.

Then, we did the same thing with talk radio. According to Talkers.com, conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck have massive audiences totaling more than 30 million listeners per week. Poor Alan Colmes only has 1.75 million weekly listeners, but when you include the liberal leaning NPR into the mix, which has 27 million weekly listeners, the landscape levels out somewhat.

In the end, our buckets broke down along these lines:

Conservative — Fox News, Fox Business News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and others.

Liberal — MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, NPR, Alan Colmess and others.

Key Findings

When it comes to the broadcast networks, the liberal news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC have 32.8 million viewers compared to the 8.5 million who watch the Fox broadcast network (not to be confused with Fox News, the cable network). So that kicks things off with data that swings in favor of the liberals dominating the airwaves.

On the cable networks, the average weekly viewership on conservative networks such as Fox News and Fox Business News is 12.9 million vs. the 9.6 million who watch liberal networks such as MSNBC. That swings slightly in favor of the conservatives, but not by much.

How about radio audiences? There are about 30 talk radio hosts who dominate the airwaves.  When you take a look at all of the top radio talk shows, 80% are conservative and 20% are liberal. Of those, the top two — Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity — get about 13 to 14 million listeners per week.

But don’t forget — we have to include NPR in our calculation. Even though NPR does not have a single, designated talk show host behind its programming, it does have a liberal voice behind the entire network, so we included their 27 million weekly listeners into our calculations.

How does this all add up? You might be surprised by the numbers. As you can see in the chart below, the liberals do not dominate the airwaves. In fact, it’s the opposite — when you add up the weekly viewership on broadcast news plus the weekly prime time viewership of cable news plus the weekly audiences of the top radio talk shows, the pendulum swings heavily in favor of the conservatives dominating the airwaves.

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The Bottom Line

One of the things we’re trying to do at the 60 Second Marketer is to take commonly-held assumptions and see if they hold up when marketing science is applied to them. We did that not to long ago when we exposed the fact that Facebook ads don’t work for the majority of companies that use them. And we’re doing it today when we’re providing a research study indicating that, contrary to popular belief, the liberals do not dominate the airwaves. In fact, the opposite is true — it’s the conservatives who dominate the airwaves.

We’re excited about this finding, which will probably generate some controversy, so let the debates begin in our comments section below.

About the Author: Jamie Turner is the CEO of the 60 Second Marketer and 60 Second Communications, a marketing communications firm that helps businesses get more bang for their marketing dollar. He is the co-author of “How to Make Money with Social Media” and “Go Mobile” and is a popular marketing speaker at events, trade shows and corporations around the globe.

60 Second Marketer

  • From the original question that you asked on FB, I took it to mean, which channels dominate through what they air, not viewership. These numbers do not surprise me however. The liberal media does outweigh the conservative media by viewers, but they have two more outlets added to the mix. What is interesting is to see who dominates in social media. Of the three cable news outlets on FB, CNN has more likes with over 9 million, Fox News has over 5 million, MSNBC has less than 400,000. The question is who gets more liked/shared content? Thanks for these numbers!

    • Hi Jeremiah. Great input. Thanks for sharing. And I agree — this post only looks at radio and TV and doesn’t factor in digital media. Maybe that’s another post for the future.

      Glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts.

      — Jamie

  • Scott McDougal

    Everyone knows TV is what really matters and that radio is the ugly stepchild. As you pointed out, TV is dominated by liberals. Hard to compare a talk radio shows ratings to that of the Emmys or other Hollywood ilk. It’s fair to say that liberals DO dominate TV and conservatives DO dominate radio. That would be a MUCH more accurate conclusion.

  • Scott McDougal

    It’s also about reach. If as you correctly pointed out – abc, NBC, CBS – the big 3 – all liberal – CNN, NPR, Bravo, the list is endless – all very very liberal – no “conservative” stories or anything critical of Obama ever reach liberals because they all slander FOX so badly no liberal would ever dare watch FOX, however, conservatives tune in to liberal channels because that’s where majority of badass entertainment content is – American Idol, etc.

    It’s cool though. I knew this articles conclusion would be a forgone conclusion otherwise it would NOT have been written. No offense Jamie but you ARE a liberal regardless of how you vote every 4 years. Still love you, but Liberals -particularly the Obama admin – DO dominate pop culture and “the airwaves.” (Social Media too – especially Upworthy)

    • Hi Scott —

      Thanks for your comments, but I’d be curious where your data is coming from when you say that liberals don’t tune in to Fox but that conservatives tune in to liberal channels. Can you send me the source of your data for that? It sounds interesting, albeit a little hard to believe.


      • Scott McDougal

        Fox and CNN pretty much cancel each other out. The rest of “the media” is pretty much dominated by liberals. Jamie, you are much more of a numbers guy than me. I’m an HSP (Google it), much more concerned with outcomes than the data. Ask any Liberal if they watch (or their opinion of) FOX News and you will get the data you seek. Then ask any conservative if they ever watch ABC, NBC, etc. Again, you will find the “data” you seek. In the end, what really matters is that “the airwaves” ARE dominated by only 2 viewpoints. If you stand for anything but these 2 viewpoints (a.k.a. DemoPublicans) you get almost ZERO airtime. That’s the “bigger” issue here, IMO. Appreciate you making room for this conversation at the 60 Second Marketer though, Jamie. Most people would prefer not even “go there.” #RandPaulOrTedCruz2016

        • I think Jeremiah has made a good distinction, which is what is being aired (or distributed) vs. what is being consumed. The data in this post says that the conservatives win when it comes to consumption.

          On another note, I’m glad to see that this post has stirred up a good dialogue. Our goal is to provide people 1) food for thought, and 2) a venue for them to express their own opinions. Looks like we’ve done that with this post. Thanks.

        • So you won’t think that this is a “liberal” dominated conversation, I would like to note for the record that I am a conservative, in fact I have made known that I am running for the Chairperson of the Republican Party in the county in which I live. Why did I disclose that, because I would like to point out that you have mentioned that Ted Cruz or Rand Paul “almost NEVER get any airtime anywhere.” Being the conservative that I am, I watch Fox News and can tell you that Sean Hannity has both Senator Cruz and Senator Paul on VERY often, in fact, Sean is a supporter of both. Also, Megyn Kelly and Van Susteren have them on their shows as well. You will even see them occasionally on Bret Baier’s program. We could debate this for days, but the reality is, that you must have good data to support what you are arguing. After presidential debates, I turn to CNN and MSNBC because as an involved citizen, I like to see what their view points about the debates/ State Of the Union are. Scott, mine and your views on politics are probably very close, but again we must use facts wisely and rightly…and I too applaud Jamie for stepping out and posting this. Good dialogue is what we need more of and this is a great way to start.

    • I see what Scott is saying here, and I think what needed to be pointed out that this post is referring to domination from a news content stand point. However, American Idol would not be your best example as it shows on Fox, which has been lumped into the conservative bucket. If you took which channels, including radio have the most liberal or conservative bias, this post would have to reflect different data. The data that would need to be analyzed would need to be that of what is being aired vs. that of which is being consumed. With top execs at ABC, CBS, and NBC being left leaning, their news often times leans liberal, as well as Tuner’s CNN and of course MSNBC. So what seems to be analyzed in this post is the news part of the airwaves of what is being consumed and not aired.

  • Scott McDougal

    The REAL issue, however, has to do with fairness and honesty. Sadly, the DemoPublicans BOTH dominate and control “the mainstream airwaves.” If you’re like me and you align with Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, not only will your candidates almost NEVER get any airtime anywhere, but even on Fox News your candidate will be labeled a “crazy” for standing up for TRUTH, honest governments, Constitutional Law, etc. And if you are in the ad biz like I am (probably 95% liberal) you will be written off and slandered for your “political” beliefs and they will never “let you play with them.” The FACT that we are even talking about which (of only 2 opinions) “OWN” the mainstream media is THE ISSUE that concerns me most. What happened to “America,” the home of “Freedom” and “Liberty” for ALL, not just 2 narrow viewpoints that continue to rule the world?

  • Eric Miller

    Great conversation, Jamie, which focuses the debate on data and not our own personal biases, be they conservative or liberal.

    Are you familiar with the work of Stephen J. Dubner and Steve Levitt from Freakonomics? They did similar research titled “How Biased is Your Media?”. It’s available at:


    Measuring media bias is a difficult endeavor because unlike what economists usually study, which are numbers and quantities, media bias is all expressed in words. To that end they used recent empirical work on media bias, in which research scholars use words as data to better understand whether a) media bias exists; b) if so, to what degree, and in what directions; and c) what purpose/s it serves. Interesting findings. Helps to put the news in context when you see how biased the news source is…at least as reported on their scale.

    • Excellent tips, my friend. Thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely check that out — much appreciated.

  • hawkchev

    Adding radio and TV together to determine your results is flawed, in my view. TV has a much more dominance in general. I also think that the same consumer may watch TV AND listen to radio will also skew the numbers. I believe TV is more dominant because it’s visual…which is why the TV ratings seem to influence what is being communicated. If radio had the same influence as TV, the election would have likely gone the other way in 2012….in my opinion. Thanks.

    • Well said, Hawkchev. I think the point you make has some merit. TV probably does have more impact because it’s visual and aural. Of course, then you have to figure out how much the 115 million vs 75 million is impacted. For example, does the visual aspect of TV make the 75 million equal to 115 million, 125 million, more?

      No matter, you bring up a valid point-of-view. Thanks for sharing.

  • the truth

    Excellent analysis!! but lets be real, anyone with a functioning brain, already knew conservative media drawfs, liberal media. But your typical republican, swears to their little plastic jesus on their pickup truck, liberal media owns everything!

    • acriticalthinker

      See my replies to the moderator….you may want to revise your “excellent analysis” comment.

  • acriticalthinker

    One might say that this “analysis” shows how to leave a false or flawed impression with “statistics.” The numbers cited could also lead to the conclusion that conservatives are much more interested and involved in knowing what is going on than liberals (which is probably true)….while many liberals are in the “low information” and WRONG information class of media consumers who are more interested in getting their “news” from Entertainment Tonight, Jon Stewart, Colbert, facebook, Daily Kos, etc. Also, the combined “conservative broadcast listeners double and triple counts the same persons….so there may be 90+ million discrete “listens” there are not 90+ million discrete “listenERS.” Also, which media outlets are considered “mainstream” by “moderates”? Are they not CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, USA Today, almost EVERY magazine (most of which are decidedly liberal)? How many movies show fake reporters on “CNN” as they are reporting on aliens attacking the world, or whatever. Yes, the numbers skew toward showing more conservative listeners/viewers of radio and TV NEWS and OPINION programs, but it neglects the more subtle liberal bias (to liberals and moderates who have been marinated in liberal views without realizing it for decades, but not subtle to those who have become more attuned to detecting bias) of most TV programs (even HGTV has gotten on the LGBT bandwagon by WAAAYY overrepresenting gays and lesbians on shows like House Hunters and other programs). And what about the late night shows, where most young people get a steady diet of liberally biased hosts and guests from “conservative” Hollywood and music stars. I could go on, but facts are wasted on liberals.

    • Hi A Critical Thinker —

      Thanks for your commentary on the blog post. For the most part, you make some valid points, although the primary finding — that conservatives are wrong when they says the liberals dominate the airwaves — holds up. When the number of viewers is counted, there are more conservative viewers than liberal viewers, even if, as you point out, there are more TV shows with a liberal bias.

      In other words, I agree with you that there are more shows with a liberal bias, but there are more viewers watching conservative show. Just ask Fox News, whose raw weekday prime time viewership is more than CNN’s and MSNBC’s combined.

      In the meantime, conservatives have bigger fish to fry — their candidate (currently Trump) is coming apart at the seams. Hopefully, Kasich or Rubio will jump back into the race. If that happened, I’d gladly vote Republican, as I have in about half of the elections.


      • acriticalthinker

        Your headline was “Do Conservatives or Liberals Own the Airwaves?” The primary “finding” only holds up if by “airwaves” one limits “airwaves” to news and opinion programs on TV and radio. I submit that my commentary CORRECTLY answers the question—-LIBERALISM dominates the “airwaves” (and “cable waves”) when one considers all the subtle and blatant shaping of perceptions of “reality” that go on in late night TV, HGTV (as noted above), sit coms, dramas, “documentaries”, music video channels, movies. Are they not even more dominant (time-wise) than news and opinion programs on the “airwaves”? Those programs are probably even MORE effective that “news” and “opinion” programs because their liberal viewpoints and embedded and “wrapped” in a coating that makes them very easy to “swallow” without realizing that the programs is making political points. Rubio was my man, but there is ZERO chance that anyone other than Trump will be the GOP nominee. The choice will be between Trump and HIllary (unless she is indicted, in which case, who knows?).

        • Holly Marie

          See that is what I was about to say! The headline of this article does not state “HOW MANY VIEWERS or LISTENERS”, it states “do conservatives or liberals own the airwaves”. Which, in most peoples interpretation that would mean the amount of sources that are liberal vs. conservative and that was very much answered by A Critical Thinker. He gave the proper answer to the headline given.
          All that was proved by your statistics that conservative viewers are more informed by the sources given to them than liberals are, but lets just be honest everyone that comes to no surprise at all.