The national media featured dozens of analysts who spent numerous hours trying to shape the thinking and behavior of the public throughout the recently concluded presidential election season. A new national survey conducted on Election Day reveals which of those commentators had the biggest influence on one of the most important voter segments in this year’s election: conservative Christian voters.
Media Helped Shift the Vote
The survey of 3,000 conservative Christians who voted in the November 8 election found that five media analysts had “a lot of influence” on people’s thinking about the presidential race among at least 10% of the SAGE Con constituency. (SAGE Cons are the Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives tracked in national surveys by the American Culture & Faith Institute, which conducted this study. More details about the nature of that group are provided at the end of this article.)
The media personality with the greatest influence was Rush Limbaugh, listed by one out of every five SAGE Cons (19%) as having a lot of influence on their election considerations. The veteran broadcaster was closely trailed by Sean Hannity, who was chosen as having “a lot of influence” on their election thoughts by 17%.
The other trio of talk-show hosts whose influence was mentioned by at least one out of ten Christian conservatives were Bill O’Reilly (14%), Laura Ingraham (12%), and Tony Perkins (11%). Unlike the others at the top of the list, Perkins is not a fulltime media professional. He is the President of the Family Research Council, a Christian ministry engaged in advancing faith, family, and freedom in public policy and society from a biblical worldview. His daily radio program, Washington Watch, along with the numerous articles he published over the course of the campaign, clearly hit home with the conservative Christian community.
Other Popular Voices
Of the more than three dozen media personalities whose influence was explored through ACFI’s election research, eight other media professionals emerged as highly influential with SAGE Cons. Charles Krauthammer was identified as highly influential in their campaign reflections by 9% of the conservative Christians. Tim Wildmon, host of a daily program on the American Family Radio network, the national broadcasting ministry of the American Family Association, was next. His influence was cited by 6% of the survey respondents.
Rounding out the top 13 political analysts were Megyn Kelly (5%), Pat Robertson (5%), Todd Starns (4%), Eric Bolling (4%), Glenn Beck (3%), and Michael Savage (3%).
The research revealed several audience patterns of interest.
- Tim Wildmon, Todd Starns, and Pat Robertson all drew a greater share of their following from among those who are more conservative on social matters than they are on fiscal policy.
- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Tony Perkins were more likely to attract people who are very conservative than those who are moderately conservative.
- Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh were more likely to appeal to Christians who were more fiscally conservative than socially conservative.
The results also underscored the fact that the most conservative Christian voters consumed a greater amount of political media than did Christians who are more tempered in their conservative leanings. The most conservative Christians also awarded the highest influence ratings to seven of the 13 media personalities on the list.
Dominance by a Few
The research showed the undeniable influence of the Fox media conglomerate within the Christian community.
“A majority of the most influential voices impacting the minds of Christian conservatives were broadcast primarily by Fox television and radio stations,” noted George Barna, the researcher who directs the efforts of the American Culture & Faith Institute. “Several ministry leaders, such as Tony Perkins, Tim Wildmon, and Pat Robertson were included in the list, but they were outnumbered by individuals whose fulltime focus is media hosting.”
Barna also pointed out that the media personalities at the top of the list tended to be those who appear on both daily radio and daily television programs. “It often seems that influence on the public’s thoughts is tied to saturation exposure. Some of these political analysts are broadcast on radio and television more than four hours a day, five days a week, and their comments are often turned into articles, blog posts, video clips, and other media content, extending their reach even further.
“In the same way that campaigns buy as much media time as they can afford in order to capture public attention and persuade people to think in a particular manner, these political analysts benefit from tremendous daily exposure that no campaign or organization could afford to pay for,” Barna continued. “The liberal voting community undoubtedly has a similar profile of exposure to the political analysts featured on the more liberal outlets, like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and NPR. For better or worse, the dozens of national political commentators featured on all of these media had a significant hand in shaping the election.”
About the Research
The research described in this report is part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey, a national study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives who are registered voters – a segment known as SAGE Cons. The survey undertaken for this report had sample size of 3,000 qualified adults and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute on the night of November 8, 2016.
In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 12% of the national adult population, which constitutes a segment of approximately 30 million individuals.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process, in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties.
Additional information about this study and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com. To receive a free copy of these newsletters, visit the website and register for the SAGE Con Weekly newsletter.