It's wildly counterintuitive, at least if you believe the chattering-class wisdom that only tea-party yahoos watch Fox News. But if a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press is accurate, at any given moment there are more Democrats watching Fox News than MSNBC or CNN.
According to Pew, 53 percent of MSNBC's viewers identify themselves as Democrats, compared to 47 percent at CNN and 21 percent at Fox News. Applying those percentages to the August Nielsen ratings, it means that the average number of Democrats watching Fox News is 214,200. MSNBC has 199,810 Democrats, and CNN 179,070.*
The other interesting thing in the Pew numbers is the way the audience of politically independent viewers breaks down. Predictably, higher percentages of Democrats watch CNN and MSNBc; higher percentages of Republicans watch Fox News. But all three networks have similar percentages of independents: 31 for CNN, 30 for MSNBC and 28 for Fox News.
Oh, one more thing (journalism professors who consider cable news the scourge of the profession should sit down before reading): The cable news channels are more trusted than their broadcast network counterparts -- and, for that matter, more than the New York Times. Pew's survey found that 29 percent of the people responding say they "believe all or most" of what they see on CNN, with 27 percent saying the same for Fox News. MSNBC lagged a little bit behind at 22 percent, but still ahead of ABC and CBS (21 percent), NBC and the New York Times (20 percent).
*Nielsen data for math nerds who want to do their own calculations on the number of Democrats watching cable news: In August, the average round-the-clock audience (Monday through Sunday) for Fox news was 1.02 million; for CNN, 381,000; and for MSNBC, 377,000.