It turns out that liberals, conservatives and anyone in between can find common ground in episodes of “Bones” and “Criminal Minds,” according to a new study.
Released Wednesday by the Norman Lear Center at USC Annenberg and futurePerfect Lab, the data-rich report tracks the links between Americans’ political beliefs and their TV-watching behaviors.
The study spanned the 50 television shows identified by a 2016 New York Times project as being popular on Facebook in regions that correspond to voting behavior in the presidential election. Through a nationally representative online survey, 3,096 participants were asked an extensive series of questions about their entertainment preferences, viewing behaviors and sentiment toward shows, as well as their personal values and attitudes toward 37 key social and economic issues widely debated in politics and news media.
“We found that it was easier to predict somebody’s ideology based on their entertainment preferences than their demographics,” Johanna Blakley, managing director of the Norman Lear Center, told The Times.
For example, the research showed that Americans who believe immigrants want to work for a better life are more likely to watch “Saturday Night Live,” “Modern Family” and “Game of Thrones.” Those who believe a woman’s primary responsibility is to her children and home are more likely to watch “Wipeout,” “Ridiculousness,” “Cake Boss” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Depending on their responses, participants were divided into three groups — Blues (47%), Reds (35%) and a swing group called Purples (18%). The series equally watched by all three groups are “Bones,” “Criminal Minds,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Mythbusters.”
Surprisingly, “Pawn Stars” is on all three groups’ most-watched lists, but it’s also on their lists of shows they dislike. Said Blakley with a laugh, “It turns out, across ideological divides, people love to hate that show.”
The study also found that, in comparison to a similar study conducted 10 years ago, Americans who were diametrically opposed in 2008 are showing signs of shifting — generally toward moderate views — on nine key issues: environment, regulation of business, privacy around new technologies, public education, guns, marriage, abortion, helping the poor, and tax reductions.
“These are issues that the mainstream news media is telling us are absolutely dividing this nation forever,” Blakley said. “But the ideological divide is not as deep as we think. We found a shift toward moderation and the ‘Blue’ side of the spectrum.”
The creators promise that a more comprehensive study on the link between TV viewership and ideological divides will be released later this year.
But there is one thing that unites all Americans, at least on the small screen. Said Blakley, “This data really reveals that there are some entertainment values that appear to be, dare I say, universal, across ideological divides, and No. 1 among them is an attraction to great characters they can identify with.”