Political Polarization And TV Viewership

Experian’s come out with its annual list of the shows whose viewers are most consistently conservative and liberal, and they’re interesting less for what they say about conservative and liberal tastes than what they indicate about the parties.

If you extrapolated back to form a party profile from the shows with the most purely conservative audiences, it would be a pretty easy guess from the top three shows — Barrett Jackson Auction (which I’d never heard of), This Old House, and the 700 Club — that the party is old, and somewhat religious. There’s a Ron Swanson-like streak in the fondness for Top Shot, New Yankee Workshop, and American Pickers. And it’s interesting to see a semi-anthropological streak in the Republican devotion to reality shows about working-class white folks like Swamp Loggers and Swamp People. Conservatives may insist that progressives treat working people with a combination of curiosity and condescension, but there are no reality shows in the list of programs with the most concentrated liberal audiences. And The Bachelor, which has a pretty grotesque perspective on marriage and family values, is in the top 10 for conservative shows.

Looking at the shows with the most concentrated liberal audiences, it’s easy to guess from mock news shows like The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and the Soup that the audiences skew young, and snarky. In fact, six of the 15 shows with the most solidly liberal audiences are talk shows, which one could say suggests a penchant for (not always productive) introspection. Shows about real and alternate families are big among liberal viewers, ranging from Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock to Glee and Modern Family to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The Middle is the only real family show to be in the conservative top 15.

The funniest bit is probably the list of shows favored by moderate voters. I’m sure politicians would love to find some leading indicators in those results. But unless we’re supposed to take a fondness for HGTV as an indicator that housing is the biggest concern most American swing voters face, there isn’t much there to build a platform on. Instead, we like semi-reformed rock stars and heavier public servants, stories about how men found their wives and women going bonkers of their dream dresses. Swing voters will remain mysterious and variable.