Viewers who trust Fox News coverage more than CNN’s are slightly less likely to take preventative measures against the novel coronavirus and a little more likely to put themselves at risk, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal BMJ Global Health.
“Health messaging, despite being one of the few effective ways to slow down the spread of the virus in the absence of a vaccine, is doomed to fail if the media prioritize political interests over population health,” said study authors Erfei Zhao and Qiao Wu, who are both PhD students at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California.
Among the nearly 5,000 adults who participated in an online survey every two weeks from March to June, around 29% said they trusted CNN more than Fox; about half (52%) expressed no preference, and one in five (20%) said they trusted Fox more than CNN.
Devotees of Fox News consistently practiced more risky behaviors — such as going out to a bar or club, attending gatherings of more than 10 people or visiting others in their homes — than CNN viewers, the study found.
In addition, the study found Fox News enthusiasts consistently practiced fewer preventative measures — such as wearing a mask, sanitizing hands, avoiding restaurants and canceling social plans — than CNN fans.
“The most we can take away from the study is that there is a correlation between news preference (at the beginning of the study) and frequency of infection-mitigating behaviors — a relationship that strengthens over time,” said Christopher Federico, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Political Psychology, in an email.
“This ‘suggests’ that there is something about the different news sources that influences behavior, but we cannot conclude that for sure given the methodology,” said Federico, who was not involved in the study.
The study’s authors noted that the research was “observational, and as such, can’t establish cause.”
“That said, there is some evidence from other studies — using better methodologies — that exposure to Fox does have a causal effect on certain behaviors (e.g., voting),” Federico said.
Trust in news seems to affect behavior
The new study analyzed data from the Understanding America Study, an ongoing longitudinal national online survey of approximately 9,000 US adults. Every two weeks from March 10 to June 9, participants were asked questions about how they had protected themselves from Covid-19 over the last seven days, among other things.
The final analysis looked at data from 4,863 respondents who completed questionnaires every two weeks without fail.
CNN viewers were most likely to follow protective guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and others, followed by those who had no preference in their media choice.
Viewers who trusted CNN for their news on Covid-19 engaged in an average of 3.85 preventative behaviors during the study period, while people who