Comparing Estimates of News Consumption from Survey and Passively Collected Behavioral Data


Surveys are a vital tool for understanding public opinion and knowledge, but they can also yield biased estimates of behavior. Here we explore a popular and important behavior that is frequently measured in public opinion surveys: news consumption. Previous studies have shown that television news consumption is consistently overreported in surveys relative to passively collected behavioral data. We validate these earlier findings, showing that they continue to hold despite large shifts in news consumption habits over time, while also adding some new nuance regarding question wording. We extend these findings to survey reports of online and social media news consumption, with respect to both levels and trends. Third, we demonstrate the usefulness of passively collected data for measuring a quantity such as “consuming news” for which different researchers might reasonably choose different definitions. Finally, recognizing that passively collected data suffers from its own limitations, we outline a framework for using a mix of passively collected behavioral and survey-generated attitudinal data to accurately estimate consumption of news and related effects on public opinion and knowledge, conditional on media consumption.

Public Opinion Quarterly