Covering sports has become political, like everything else. Bryan Curtis proclaimed sportswriting a liberal profession. Those same liberal sportswriters have been pilloried for their arrogance. What sports content you consume now has political connotations. People who produce that content are having a hard time “sticking to sports.”
Since sports media members’ politics are of interest, we tried to ground the general observations with some data. We surveyed 51 sports media members about their personal politics. Responses were blind and anonymous. We also polled a sample of 312 The Big Lead readers for comparison.
We sought a broad range across sports and specialties. We tried to be inclusive, without using quotas. The media pool skews male (76.5 percent) and white (82.4 percent), but that’s reflective of the industry. We presumed liberals, less fearful of being outed, would be more likely to fill out the survey. Ease of us contacting said media members also factored into the sample. Here are the results.
Self-identified Republicans are not well represented in the sports media per the survey. 58 percent of sports media members identified as Democrats. Another 36 percent considered themselves Independents. Just three respondents (6 percent) reported being Republicans.
This breakdown contrasts the most recent Gallup Poll. Among the general population, Democrats and Republicans tie for 31 percent. A plurality of 37 percent identified themselves as Independents. Our audience poll was closer to Gallup, with a slight Democratic lean (35.1 percent Democrats, 25.9 percent Republicans, 28.9 percent Independents).
The response bias we noted may be a factor here. Republicans may have been less likely to fill out the survey or to out themselves within it. It’s also worth noting “Independent” does not mean moderate. Under Donald Trump, the Republican Party has embraced ideas that are not “conservative.”
Media members identified themselves as being socially liberal. On a scale of 1 (extremely conservative) to 10 (extremely liberal), 76.5 percent of respondents placed themselves within the 7-10 range. Respondents believed they were more moderate on economic issues. 74.5 percent of respondents put themselves in the 3-7 range.
How They Voted
Sports media members surveyed did not like Donald Trump. Of the 51 respondents, 41 (80.4 percent) voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Just two respondents (3.9 percent) voted for Trump–lower than the percentage who voted for a third party (5.9 percent) or who did not vote (9.8 percent). Of the media members who voted for Clinton, 19 of the 41 cited voting against Trump as their primary reason for their vote.
There was greater variance in the primary support. Respondents were asked who their first choice was. Clinton still led with 48 percent of media members, followed by Bernie Sanders at 24 percent. Marco Rubio and John Kasich tied for 10 percent. The other 8 percent preferred “other” candidates. Zero media members said Donald Trump or Ted Cruz was their first choice.
We also asked respondents about the 2012 election. 74.5 respondents voted for Barack Obama in that election. 13.7 percent voted for Mitt Romney. The other 11.8 percent did not vote.
The TBL audience, for what it’s worth, still favored Clinton. 50.3 percent of readers were “with her” in the general election. Trump and third parties tied for 19.9 percent. First choice primary support was more fractured (23.8 percent Clinton, 20.6 percent Kasich, 19.2 percent Sanders, 12.2 percent Rubio, 7.4 percent Trump, and 3.9 percent Cruz).
Media members ranked themselves in the 7-10 range as being socially liberal. That showed up when we polled about social issues. Forty-four of the 51 respondents were Pro-Choice (86.3 percent). Only 7.8 percent identified themselves as Pro-Life. The national average is 57 percent believing abortion should be legal/mostly legal. The percentage of TBL readers who were Pro-Choice was 55.8 percent.
There was a striking difference in gun ownership between the sports media and the general population. Just three of the 51 respondents (5.9 percent) reported owning a gun. The national average is 36 percent of households. 30.4 percent of TBL readers owned guns.
Media members are also more apt to believe human activity is causing/exacerbating climate change. 88.2 percent of sports media members felt climate change was caused by humans. No one said human activity was not at fault. 68.1 percent of TBL readers thought humans were causing/exacerbating climate change. Just 7.8 percent did not. Nationally, the percentage believing in human-caused climate change is 48 percent.
The sports media is also more progressive than the general population on marijuana. 76.5 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal. A Gallup poll pegs national support at 60 percent. Both groups trail TBL readers at 81 percent.
Sports media members surveyed believe the sports media is liberal. 78.4 percent described the sports media as either “liberal” or “very liberal.” Only 5.9 percent thought it was conservative. 90.2 percent described sports media Twitter as “liberal” or “very liberal.” A plurality of 43.1 percent thought sports media Twitter was more liberal than they were, only 17.6 percent thought it was more conservative. 68.6 percent said they had censored a political/social opinion on Twitter for fear of backlash.
Neutrality has become a major journalistic issue during the Trump era. 54 percent of sports media members were against employer policies restricting public political expression. Only 6 percent supported blanket policies. 40 percent supported them when journalists were covering politics or a related field. 47.1 percent of media members reported having such an employer policy in place.
We surveyed media members about their news diets. Media members get their news through Twitter (68.6 percent), going directly to websites (21.6 percent) or television (7.8 percent). Only one respondent copped to getting news primarily through Facebook. No media member was getting news primarily via print.
Media members gave their primary news outlet. The most often citied were the New York Times (16) and the Washington Post (9). Also noted frequently were MSNBC (7), CNN (6), and NPR (3). Several mentioned following an array of mainstream outlets. Only one of the 51 respondents told of a “conservative” outlet Fox News being in his/her rotation.
TBL readers had similar top news sources. Though, the Wall St. Journal, Fox News, and the Drudge Report were also frequently mentioned. Only one of the 312 reader respondents named Breitbart as his/her primary outlet.
The 41-2 Clinton/Trump margin seems extreme. We suspect as we noted before, the real Conservative/Trump support to be higher. Still, we can safely conclude the sports media is quite liberal. Sports media members tend to be very progressive on social issues and perhaps more moderate on economic ones. Your average sports media member may not be grabbing for the pitchforks with Bernie but is solid blue during most cycles.
Demographics can explain much of this voting. This survey is whiter and more male than the general population. But, other important factors differentiate the media from the general population. Most media members have a college degree. Media members are younger. 84.3 percent of survey respondents were under 50. Younger people tend to be less conservative.
Media outlets are clustered in the major cities, predominately on the coasts. 72.5 percent of respondents came from a major city. Cities tended to go heavily to Clinton. 68.6 percent were from states Clinton won in 2016. 58.9 percent lived in either California or the Acela (Boston-Washington, D.C.) Corridor in the Northeast.
The imbalance isn’t so much the fervency of the liberalism. It’s the absence of a certain brand of conservatism that’s prevalent outside the sports media. The percentages of sports media members who are pro-choice and don’t own guns would be striking compared to many suburban areas, much less the rural South.
Does this political imbalance matter? Evangelical Christians can be a force in the sports media. Why does Tim Tebow get covered so much? Because there are a lot of people who really like Tim Tebow. As we noted here, the Tebow traffic bumps on this site came on positive Tebow coverage. But, those were not people who came to the site normally. Are those people engaged consumers of daily sports content?
Our reader survey is not a great proxy for the sports fan population as a whole. But it is a better proxy for avid sports media consumers. They tend to be young-ish, tend to be male, tend to live near cities, are well-versed in the daily sports news cycle, and are probably checking things on phones. Less than 20 percent of that group in the survey voted for Trump. That survey reported as 90-plus percent male and 90-plus percent white.
The sports media clearly leans left. But, it may be a stretch to say that alienates a significant portion of the audience. The sports media is clustered in major cities and along the coasts because that’s where much of its audience is.