The GOP’s Diploma Divide Hits Fox News

Fox News has always been more trusted among Republicans with a degree than those without, but that’s no longer the case
Net trust* of Fox News
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*Net trust is the share of respondents who trust a brand to do the right thing minus the share who do not.
Morning Consult Brand Intelligence
April 01, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Educational polarization has changed the Republican Party over the past decade, and now the downstream effects of that churn have come to Fox News’ audience.

The network has long been more trusted among Republicans who have a college education than those who do not, but that is no longer the case. The first quarter of 2024 marks the first time in Morning Consult Brand Intelligence tracking that Republicans without a college degree are more likely to say they trust Fox News than college-educated Republicans. 

This inversion along the so-called diploma divide came as former President Donald Trump — fueled by support from these Republicans, who make up an increasingly dominant share of the GOP electorate — effectively clinched his third Republican presidential nomination in eight years. Trump handily defeated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who ran strongest among GOP primary voters with at least a four-year degree. This victory came after Fox News saw drops in its net trust following three key events: 1) The fallout from the 2020 election, 2) the related Dominion defamation settlement and 3) host Tucker Carlson’s firing. 

While Fox News’ decision in 2020 to project Trump’s loss in the battleground state of Arizona on election night caused more reputational damage among Republicans without a college degree, the aftermath of the Dominion settlement left a bigger mark with college-educated Republicans, eliminating the longstanding trust gap between the two groups.

For the First Time, Non-College Republicans Are More Likely to Use Fox News

Share of weekly users of Fox News
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Morning Consult Brand Intelligence

Trust in a network does not necessarily equal viewership, or in the parlance of our Brand Intelligence platform, “usage.” But in this case, educational polarization among Republicans is also having an impact on the latter.

In another first from Q1 2024, Republicans without a college degree are more likely than those with a higher level of educational attainment to say they use Fox News at least once a week. 

What it means

Fox News, like much of the Republican establishment, has tried to move on from Trump since 2020. Non-college-educated Republicans have made clear that he’s not going anywhere if they have anything to do with it. And while that’s certainly not harming Fox News’ ratings, the fallout from 2020, which ultimately resulted in a $787.5 million settlement paid to Dominion, has affected its bottom line.

If Fox News is increasingly beholden to these non-college-educated Republicans for its viewer base, it could find itself in a similar position as it did in late 2020, when it had to choose between telling its viewers the truth or what they wanted to hear.

A headshot photograph of Joanna Piacenza
Joanna Piacenza
Head of Industry Analysis

Joanna Piacenza leads Industry Analysis at Morning Consult. Prior to joining Morning Consult, she was an editor at the Public Religion Research Institute, conducting research at the intersection of religion, culture and public policy. Joanna graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications and holds a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

A headshot photograph of Cameron Easley
Cameron Easley
Lead U.S. Politics Analyst

Cameron Easley is Morning Consult’s lead analyst for U.S. politics. Prior to moving into his current role, he led Morning Consult's editorial coverage of U.S. politics and elections from 2016 through 2022. Cameron joined Morning Consult from Roll Call, where he was managing editor. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Follow him on Twitter @cameron_easley. Interested in connecting with Cameron to discuss his analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].

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