Hey Axios: Americans are bitterly divided by news-media brands. Is this about politics, alone?

This just in: More and more Americans are making media choices based on their political convictions.

Surprised? Who could be surprised by this news — in an important new Morning Consult poll — after a rising tide of acid in public life that has been getting worse year after year and decade after decade.

But here is the question I want to ask about this new poll, and the Axios report that pointed me to it: Is this trend linked to politics, alone?

Yes, Donald Trump and the whole “fake news” whipping post are important (#DUH). But if journalists dig into the roots of this growing divide at the heart of American public discourse they will hit disputes — many linked to religion and culture — that are much deeper than the shallow ink slick that is the Trump era.

Hold that thought.. Here is the top of the bite-sized, news you can use Axios report:

News media companies make up 12 of the 15 most polarizing brands in America today, according to a new Morning Consult poll provided to Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer.

— CNN and Fox News continue to be the most divisive news companies.

— Why it matters: The gap between how Republicans and Democrats view national media brands like CNN and Fox News continues to widen, according to the polling, which points to an increase in America's polarization.

Between the lines: The gap is being driven by substantial decreases in Republican approval of media brands other than Fox News. 

— The difference between how the two parties viewed CNN grew from a 66-point gap last year to an 80-point gap this year, due to a 12-point drop in net favorability among Republicans, from -13% to -25%.

Hear me say this: It is completely accurate to stress Trump’s role in all of this and for pollsters to push hard with questions about political party identity.

But does anyone doubt that researchers would have seen the same split it they had asked questions about third-trimester abortion, trigger-based speech codes on university campuses, the First Amendment rights of wedding-cake artists, government funding for trans treatments in the U.S. military and dozens of other questions that, for millions of Americans, are directly linked to religious doctrines?

Let me be more specific. If pollsters were able to get responses from thousands of tense United Methodists, do you think you would see media-brand loyalties that were linked to these believers’ convictions about the Bible, church tradition, sex and marriage?

How about Anglicans here in America? Would researchers see a media-trust split between Episcopalians whose presiding bishop is based in the U.S. Acela zone, as opposed to Anglicans linked to an archbishop in the Sudan or Nigeria?

One more: How about progressive evangelicals who are quietly veering left on LGBTQ issues and those who are clinging to centuries of Christian tradition? Who starts their day with The Daily podcast from The New York Times?

In other words, there is more to this than Trump. When Trump is gone, the moral, cultural and religious divisions will remain. Anyone want to predict the hot-button issues that will dominate hearings the next time there is an open chair at the U.S. Supreme court?

All of this has, of course, started to change media economics in a journalism marketplace rocked by the failure of digital ads. The Morning Consult piece noted:

Viewership for all three leading cable networks — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — increased in 2018, per a Pew Research Center analysis of Comscore data. 

For the three, total revenue and total profit both increased by 4 percent in 2018. The uptick in revenue was part of a 36 percent surge since 2015, from $3.87 billion to $5.26 billion. Profit, at $2.85 billion, was up 50 percent since 2015’s $1.9 billion.

The New York Times, the fourth most divisive brand on the list and a habitual punching bag for Trump, posted record print and digital subscriptions

Yes, it really helps to be preaching to a large and loyal choir.

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