News Media Use, Talk Networks, and Anti-Elitism across Geographic Location: Evidence from Wisconsin

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A certain social-political geography recurs across European and North American societies: As post-industrialization and mechanization of agriculture have disrupted economies, rural and nonmetropolitan areas are aging and declining in population, leading to widening political and cultural gaps between metropolitan and rural communities. Yet political communication research tends to focus on national or cross-national levels, often emphasizing networked digital media and an implicitly global information order. We contend that geographic place still provides a powerful grounding for individuals’ lifeworld experiences, identities, and orientations to political communications and politics. Focusing on the U.S. state of Wisconsin, and presenting data gathered in 2018, this study demonstrates significant, though often small, differences between geographic locations in terms of their patterns of media consumption, political talk, and anti-elite attitudes. Importantly, television news continues to play a major role in citizens’ repertoires across locations, suggesting we must continue to pay attention to this broadcast medium. Residents of more metropolitan communities consume significantly more national and international news from prestige sources such as the New York Times, and their talk networks are more cleanly sorted by partisanship. Running against common stereotypes of news media use, residents of small towns and rural areas consume no more conservative media than other citizens, even without controlling for partisanship. Our theoretical model and empirical results call for further attention to the intersections of place and politics in understanding news consumption behaviors and the meanings citizens draw from media content.




Wells, C., Friedland, L. A., Hughes, C., Shah, D. V., Suk, J., & Wagner, M. W. (2021). News Media Use, Talk Networks, and Anti-Elitism across Geographic Location: Evidence from Wisconsin. International Journal of Press/Politics, 26(2), 438–463.

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