Monday, December 28, 2009

Are most readers of liberal newspapers Republicans?

Editorially liberal newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post get hundreds of comments on their editorials and op-ed pieces.

I've started to realized that many of those comments aren't from readers. But if not, who are these people? --especially the ones who insert general-purpose right wing rants, often with numerous spelling/grammar errors that don't seem to match reader demographics for the publication in question.

But how do you prove it?

I took a Washington Post op ed piece advocating changing the U.S. Senate's filibuster rules, which have gotten a lot of attention since being used by the Republicans to block healthcare reform. Historically, they first came into prominence when Southern senators used filibusters to try to block segregation reforms.

I read the hundreds of comments and categorized them into pros and cons and off topic rants (many about healthcare reform), along with whether they were pretty much nonpartisan or appeared to be making left wing or right wing talking points.

Here's what I posted in the comment thread for that article:

As of 10:32:03pm, here's how the hundreds of comments on this thread divide up:

72 support Senate rules reform on bipartisan grounds, though a lot of these want term limits more than a change in filibuster rules

26 oppose reforming the filibuster rules on nonpartisan or bipartisan grounds

33 more support Senate rules reform on a Democratic Party partisan basis.

44 more oppose reforming the filibuster rules on a Republican partisan basis.

This gets us 105 favoring Senate rules reform by combining bipartisan and Democratic pro- comments, and

70 opposing Senate (filibuster) rules reform by combing bipartisan and Republican anti- comments

there were also 91 off-topic rants against all things Democratic by Republican posters,

along with 51 off-topic Democratic partisan posts--mostly in response to the off-topic Republican rants, and

30 more off-topic nonpartisan rants, mostly of the "pox on both your houses" variety.

Put this all together and you have 135 explicitly Republican posts vs. 83 explicitly Democratic posts.

So--is it reasonable to assume that either a large majority of Washington Post readers are hard-core Republicans--the sort who believe President Obama is a foreigner, a Marxist, and a Muslim terrorist...

Or that many if not most of the Republican off-topic rants come from those who aren't actually Washington Post readers?

If the latter is true, why is it true?

Three possibilities:

1. Some of the posters are sad, angry little souls whose only real human contact is the negative intimacy they derive from flame wars online.

2. Others are Republican activists mounting something like a DNS (Denial of Service) attack on mainstream comment threads to disrupt them and to create the false impression that more people share their beliefs than is true.

3. Or some? many? are doing this for money. I have seen two right wing websites offering this service. No idea whether it's true. Seems plausible though.

Another question: how did the non-WaPo readers find their way to this article's comment thread? Are there groups monitoring major publications who then direct them to such comment threads through blogs? Or what?

12/27/2009 10:50:00 PM

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