President Donald Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may be rooted in statistical reality: An extensive review of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn't do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.
POLITICO’s findings — which put Trump’s escalating attacks on the media in a new context — were drawn from a comparison of election results and subscription information from the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry group that verifies print and digital circulation for advertisers. The findings cover more than 1,000 mainstream news publications in more than 2,900 counties out of 3,100 nationwide from every state except Alaska, which does not hold elections at the county level.At WP, however, Philip Bump reminds us, however, that correlation is not causation.
The results show a clear correlation between low subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012. Those links were statistically significant even when accounting for other factors that likely influenced voter choices, such as college education and employment, suggesting that the decline of local media sources by itself may have played a role in the election results.
Particularly east of the Rockies, Politico’s map of “news desert” counties — “places with minimal newspaper subscriptions, print or online” — overlaps heavily with places with larger rural populations. Local print news outlets require significant population density to be successful; delivering newspapers to hundreds of people scattered over thousands of square miles is necessarily more expensive than dropping off the New York Times to subscribers in Manhattan.Moreover, rural areas often have poor Internet access, which probably affects online subscriptions as well.