Published on March 14th, 2016

Online comment sections provide a space for the public to interact with news, to express their opinions, and to learn about others’ views. To date, little is known about the populations that inhabit online comment sections. Who comments online and why? Who reads online comments? And what does the public think about best practices for this space? In this report, we use a nationally representative sample of commenters and comment readers to describe the demographic makeup, attitudes, and behaviors of the people who comprise the online commenting world.

Some noteworthy findings include:

  • 55% of Americans have left an online comment and 77.9% have read the comments at some point.
  • Of those who have left a comment, 77.9% have done so via social media.
  • Just over half (50.7%) of Americans do not read news comments or leave comments on news sites.
  • Of those who leave news comments, 53.2% said they comment on news monthly or less frequently, and of those who read comments, 59.0% said that they do so a few times a month or less.
  • Americans who leave news comments, who read news comments, and who do neither are demographically distinct. News commenters are more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes compared to those who read news comments.
  • News commenters and comment readers most commonly name United States politics or domestic policy as the types of stories on which they comment or read comments.
  • 56% of those who comment on news say they do so to express an opinion, particularly when the topic is United States politics or domestic policy.


  • Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

    Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

    Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is the founding and current Director of the Center for Media Engagement and Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Niche News: The Politics of News Choice, received the Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association, and inspired the early development of the Center. Her research examines the use and effects of political news content.

  • Emily Van Duyn

    Emily Van Duyn
    Graduate Research Assistant

    Emily Van Duyn (M.Ed., Southern Methodist University) is a doctoral student in communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research explores the intersection of digital media, political discourse, and community. In her work at the center, she focuses on how news media can engage diverse audiences and encourage political discussion and community engagement. Her doctoral research focuses on the reasons why people don’t express their political opinions in public and where they may go to express those opinions in secret.

  • Cynthia Peacock

    Cynthia Peacock
    Faculty Research Associate

    Cynthia Peacock (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies department at the University of Alabama. She is interested in political communication and news use. Her most recent research investigates the contexts in which people express and avoid expressing their political opinions, and the ways in which diverse opinion expression and disagreement take place in political discussions.