The nastiness of right-wing media has a way of turning everyday people into objects of partisan hatred. The latest such unwitting celebrity is Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student whose advocacy for contraception coverage captured the attention of Rush Limbaugh. The radio host demonstrated characteristic charm and decency when he misrepresented Fluke’s stance, called her a “slut” on national radio, and then suggested that she (and millions of other women) make a sex tape for him. Limbaugh’s vicious comments earned rebukes from the presidents of both Georgetown and the United States: The former issued a thoughtful and wise statement on the matter, and the latter called Fluke to offer his support. Their gracious behavior not only highlighted how crass and nasty Limbaugh is, but it also raised the question: Who are the 15 million people who listen to this guy?
Data from the Pew Research Center offers some insight. A 2008 survey found that 80 percent of Limbaugh’s listeners identified themselves as “conservative,” compared to 35 percent of the total U.S. population. About three-quarters of his listeners are NRA supporters, compared to 40 percent of all Americans. The same proportion identify themselves as Tea Partiers and Christian Conservatives. Why do they listen to Limbaugh? In one survey, 37 percent said they tune in for opinion, but another 28 percent say they enjoy the blend of news, opinion, and entertainment. Among Republicans, 13 percent say they tune in to Limbaugh “regularly.” There’s one more interesting number to keep in mind, and after the events of this week, it will hardly come as a surprise: According to a 2009 survey, only 28 percent of Limbaugh’s audience is female—a smaller proportion than any other news source included in the questionnaire.