TV Shows Republicans (But Not Democrats) Watch

A new survey shows that political ideology leads to different television viewing habits. This shouldn't be surprising.

The Hollywood Reporter takes note of a study that shows Republicans and Democrats have very different viewing habits:

According to months of data from leading media-research company Experian Simmons, viewers who vote Republican and identify themselves as conservative are more likely than Democrats to love the biggest hits on TV. Of the top 10 broadcast shows on TV in the spring, nine were ranked more favorably by viewers who identify themselves as Republican.

Liberals appreciate many of the same shows, mind you. But their devotion typically is not quite as strong as right-wingers, and Dems are more likely to prefer modestly rated titles.

Like Mad Men.

The Emmy favorite has struggled to get a broad audience on AMC. It scores through the roof with Democrats (does anyone in Santa Monica or on Manhattan’s Upper West Side not watch it?), but it has one of the weakest scores among Republicans. The same is true for FX’s Damages, Showtime’s Dexter, HBO’s Entourage and AMC’s Breaking Bad.

And it’s not like Republicans have something against cable shows: The GOP has plenty of love for White Collar, Pawn Stars and American Chopper.

“The big shows with mass appeal tend to have above-average scores from Democrats and Republicans but with higher concentrations of Republicans,” says John Fetto, senior marketing manager at Experian Simmons. “Looking at the Democrats side, I don’t mean to make light of it, but they seem to like shows about damaged people. Those are the kind of shows Republicans just stay away from.”

That also goes for the soft-rated, critically beloved 30 Rock. Its score is highly polarized in favor of Democrats. The only show on NBC’s Thursday night comedy block that Republicans rate highly (slightly better than Democrats, even) is The Office … which happens to be the one bona fide hit in the bunch.

When you take a look at the lists themselves, you notice few similarities:

The top scoring shows on each list are no surprise, of course. That Glenn Beck is hugely popular among Republicans and Keith Olberman is similarly popular among Democrats but not vice versa. What’s more surprising, really, is that there’s no correlation at all among the Top 15 shows in either list. It’s as stark a difference as you see in reports about viewing habits among African-Americans versus those for the population as a whole, although that particular disparity has become less apparent since the advent of shows like American Idol, which have broad cross- racial appeal.

I’ll leave to the comment thread to discuss why, say, The Big Bang Theory is a popular show among Republicans while Private Practice is a popular show among Democrats.

What explains the apparent disparity in viewing habits based on (self-reported) political ideology then?

One theory is that the disparity is a reflection of demographic differences. People who self-identify as Democrats tend to skew younger, urban, and college educated. The types of television shows that they’d be attracted to would reflect that demography. Combine that with the fact that cable television gives people so many more choices than those that existed even thirty years ago, and the difference seems easy to explain:

What has changed is the explosion on cable that has allowed networks to appeal to more specific viewpoints, from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart to Fox News’ Glenn Beck. Moreover, if you’re a liberal viewer in a major city (which typically correlates with higher education) and you have such titles as Mad Men and Dexter to watch each week, are you going to also be interested in seeing a paint-by-numbers crime procedural on broadcast or a laugh-track-boosted sitcom? On the scripted side, at least, the explosion of complex dramas on cable may have ceded some of the broadcast ground to what one might label Republican tastes.

In other words, this phenomenon is just a reflection of the fragmentation of broadcast media, as is the fact that the only telecasts that make the list of the most watched television broadcasts anymore are Super Bowl broadcasts. There are more choices out there and they’re expanding every day. People are going to watch what appeals to them whether that’s on the basis of demography, education, ethnicity, or political ideology.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    Interesting that Modern Family is a Republican fav., given that it partially features two gay men in a committed relationship raising a baby.

    Good show.

  2. Linda says:

    Dems and “Law & Order: SVU”? Are they rooting for the bad guy?

    Repubs and “Two and a Half Men”? Charlie Sheen? Poster child for bad behavior? Shocking!

  3. Ken says:

    I am pleased to see that both sides like some shows I like and some shows I hate.

    I would like to see a poll of the voting habits of people who watch less than, say, five hours of TV per week.

  4. Franklin says:

    I hide my eyes during the gays parts

    Afraid you’ll catch it?

  5. rsrobinson says:

    I’m a conservative who’s a big fan of Dexter, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. I also enjoyed 30 Rock for awhile but the continuous satirical slams against conservatives grew old and I haven’t watched it this season. It shouldn’t be any surprise that it’s not a Republican favorite when the writers seem hellbent on driving them away.

    As for Modern Family, it may include a committed gay couple but they aren’t used as a device to trash conservatives, at least not in the episodes I’ve seen. For all its problems and dysfunctions ultimately the extended family loves each other and the underlying theme is the importance of family. That’s why it appeals to Republicans. It’s also very funny.

  6. Billy says:

    All I get from this is that, with a handful of exceptions, democrats and republicans love terrible television.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    Some of the breakdowns might just be men are more Republican, which might explain Two and a Half Men and Modern Family (a/k/a the Sofia Vergara show)

  8. anjin-san says:

    > the underlying theme is the importance of family. That’s why it appeals to Republicans.

    The gay/lesbian men and women who are serving our country in uniform and being forced to live a lie while doing so have families. Are they important?

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Dems like Olberman and Breaking Bad. Meth freaks! Everything Keith says can be proven to be a lie. I have yet to find anyone to disprove what Beck has to say.

  10. rsrobinson says:

    Like I said, I’m a conservative who loves Breaking Bad. The show neither romanticizes nor celebrates the drug culture but shows it in all its ugliness and despair. Walter and Jesse start out as sympathetic figures in many respects but their involvement in the crystal meth business has led them into a downward spiral which can only end in disaster for them and everyone and everything they touch. It’s a cautionary tale which has a very conservative message: crime doesn’t pay.

  11. Herb says:

    “Interesting that Modern Family is a Republican fav.”

    Yeah, I thought so too, not just for the gay couple but for the immigrant Latina. Perhaps its the show’s heartwarming pro-family message?

    At any rate, I think this list is mostly bogus. Aside from the political shows, all of these shows are designed for mass appeal. If anything, this list shows how well the shows do that…or not.

    This isn’t so much a measure of shows that skew Republican or Democrat, but a measure of shows that are enjoyed by a diverse audience.

  12. Herb says:

    @ Rino Moran:

    “Genesis 2:23 – 2:25”

    Matthew 7:1

  13. Bryan Pick says:

    Hmm. The Good Wife would be tied for #6 in the Republican column if they included it. Desperate Housewives and The Mentalist barely fail to make the Dems’ list, and Friday Night Lights barely fails to make the Republicans’ list.

  14. Trumwill says:

    I’m a conservative who’s a big fan of Dexter, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. I also enjoyed 30 Rock for awhile but the continuous satirical slams against conservatives grew old and I haven’t watched it this season.

    I struggle to think of a single show with such a friendly portrayal of a staunch Republican as 30 Rock. In fact, when I complain of the lack of friendly, protagonistic portrayals of conservatives or Republicans, Jack Donaghy stands as one of the strongest counterexamples. They don’t even use him to be the Hal Jordanesque foil (well-intentioned, but always proven to be wrong when disagreeing with a liberal) since Jack is frequently right:

  15. SallySmothers says:

    This is not suprising; I see it all the time in various family members: The older, stodgy old-fogeys, who are also Republicans, natch, enjoy network television almost exclusively. It doesn’t even occur to them that it’s wasteful to never try out all those extra cable channels they’re paying for! They watch whatever pabulum the network spoon-feeds them.

    How about the studies that prove the higher your IQ, the more likely you are to be a progressive?

    Oh, and, P.S.– “Zelgsdorf Rammedass the III” You’ve never seen anyone disprove ANYTHING Glenn Beck has EVER said??! You need to get out more, Gramps!

  16. sam says:

    “What’s more surprising, really, is that there’s no correlation at all among the Top 15 shows in either list”

    Which tells me the lists are bullshit.

  17. James Joyner says:

    I like several shows from both lists: NCIS, Lie To Me, Mad Men, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, and Breaking Bad.

    Oddly, I’d have guessed that, if anything, Mad Men and FNL would skew Republican.

  18. Franklin says:

    I struggle to think of a single show with such a friendly portrayal of a staunch Republican as 30 Rock.

    Good point. Plus, this is the only comedy show that consistently makes me laugh out loud. I haven’t noticed any Republican-bashing, but then again I guess I’m not so thin-skinned as some of the other posters.

    Last night’s show was making fun of Lemon’s devotion to her jeans, supposedly made in an environmentally friendly way right here in the USA blah blah blah, but it turned out she was basically a hypocrite in every way.

  19. VyseN1 says:

    Interesting list. However, my beloved Sci-Fi shows are nowhere here! Where do I fit in, lol.

  20. Teresa says:

    I must be a moderate because I love Modern Family & American Idol as well as Mad Men, 30 Rock and Community. Half the shows on each list I’ve never even heard of.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    “Unlike others like them, neither try to push their beliefs on anyone. It’s actually quite benign”

    That old, sad, pathetic myth about how the scary homosexuals are trying to convert everyone, simply by demanding the same rights as everyone else…you can tell a lot about a person by the particular bogeymen that scare him…

  22. Shelly says:

    What I found interesting was that the Republican list had a lot more reality shows: Amazing Race; Survivor; Dancing With the Stars; American Idol (did I miss any?) and the Dem list had only one. I don’t know what that says at all.

    And it’s interesting that the Dem list features many main characters who are damaged and/or unheroic — Dexter, Mad Men, Breaking Bad. (Just add Nurse Jackie and Rescue Me and the list is complete.) Perhaps Dems are more apt to see the flawed characters as interesting and compelling, not simply bad people

    And as Brian Pick noted, a bunch of the shows are actually nearly equally popular among both, just not on both lists. Also interesting: among the Republicans’ shows, the Dem score is generally also pretty high (except for Beck, no surprise), but among the Dems’ shows, there are several with very low Republican scores.

  23. MikeS says:

    There’s something wrong with this list. The numbers in parenthesis supposedly show the opposing side’s ranking, but those rankings do not match up.

    This sounds fictitious to me.

  24. R. Kevin Hill says:

    I’m sure it has something to do with “blaming the victim” or its absence.

  25. R. Kevin Hill says:

    Exactly. The iconic Republican figure is more often than not the wise one, but I guess being imperfect is intolerable. There is another factor as well. The show satirizes Democratic sensibilities in a dead-on way, but I think that most Republicans would fail to grasp this because of the enormous discrepancy between Republican imagined liberals and actual liberal foibles. For example, this week Tina Fey is angsting about whether the store that sells her jeans is locally owned and operated. How many Republicans know that Democrats even have a preoccupation with supporting local business (because it isn’t a big bad corporation)? Aren’t they supposed to be these folks who hate and want to destroy local business, you know, *because* it’s virtuous? Also, oddly, she is not enraged and pursuing her obsessive anticolonialist agenda. She’s too busy letting everyone walk all over her, hint hint.

  26. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***How about the studies that prove the higher your IQ, the more likely you are to be a progressive?****lol, more like likely to qualify to be taught by a progressive. hahaha……

    I see only 3 good shows on the lists, must be my low IQ.

  27. observer says:

    I call BS. If Olbermann and Mad Men were the favorite shows of Democrats, wouldn’t their ratings be higher?

    Grey’s Anatomy, House, and The Simpsons appear on neither list, what a joke.

  28. chris green says:

    They don’t explain here exactly _what_ this list is well. It is a list of the shows _with the highest differential between republican and democratic viewers_. i.e. its the top 10 most polarizing shows for each group, NOT the most popular shows among each group.

    The obvious tipoff is beck and olberman – to a first approximation, NO ONE watches cable tv news.

    If you do a search and look up the most popular shows on tv, you’ll see that they aren’t on this list, which of course is not surprising – you can’t be the most popular show on tv without having the widest appeal possible.

  29. Robert Anderson says:

    What about Robot Chicken, South Park and Family Guy? Or American Dad, for that matter. Those shows definitely skew Democratic and they are very popular. Something smells…

  30. G.A.Phillips says:

    Question:what is everyone’s favorite top 5?

    Mine are, 1) Pawn Stars 2) American Pickers 3) Fringe 4) American idol 5) Boardwalk Empire.

    I am a recovering liberal, conservative, with Christian and headbanger tendencies 🙂
    Just wondering,,,,

  31. Joe R. says:

    “I would like to see a poll of the voting habits of people who watch less than, say, five hours of TV per week.”

    This sample of one is a non-voter.

    I don’t watch 30 Rock, not because of any ideological reasons, but because Jack McBrayer is annoying.

  32. Great post.

    In terms of stereotype-breakers, several people have noticed how odd Modern Family stands out as a GOP viewer favorite. But what about Mad Men for Democrats? It’s a virtually all-white show where men are — generally — the kings of the corporate universe and most of the women are just “finding” themselves. While there is some “diversity” from the standpoint of female and gay viewpoints, blacks exist only as a maid and period news-stories. Not exactly the current Democratic party-line.

    Meanwhile, as a Republican, I also have to agree with Trumwill and Franklin: 30 Rock doesn’t just treat Jack Donaghey as a sympathetic Republican, but it easily tweaks liberals and Democrats as much as the other side. In fact, this week’s episode, while having fun with Jack trying to knock off a Democratic congresswoman, also parodied Democrats paranoia that Halliburton controls everything (including the New York Times). Very very funny.

  33. Adam Canning says:


    According to the Democrat list, The Good Wife scores 119 among Republicans.

    Shouldn’t it be joint 6th on the republican list?

  34. BobN says:

    “Unlike others like them, neither try to push their beliefs on anyone. It’s actually quite benign”

    Yeah, I’m sure the gay couple don’t have any expectation that the kid they’re raising has any legal connection to either of them or, even more ridiculous, that they are due any sort of legal recognition of their relationship to each other.

    Here’s a clue: the “benign” thing you see is what will eventually happen when we’ve successfully “pushed out beliefs” on America.

    And, while we’re on the general topic, I’ll never let another Two-and-a-Half-Men-watching Republican get away with accusing US of debasing the culture….