November 8, 2007

Heavy Campaign Coverage Draws Large Audience

Summary of Findings

The 2008 presidential campaign dominated the national news last week, driven in large part by the lively Democratic debate in Philadelphia. Public interest in the campaign was up somewhat from previous weeks with 27% of Americans paying very close attention to campaign news. More than one-in-five named the campaign as the single news story they followed more closely than any other last week. This placed the campaign on par with the war in Iraq as one of the week’s two most closely followed stories. Democrats paid much closer attention to the campaign than Republicans: 36% of Democrats vs. 23% of Republicans followed campaign news very closely.

Public interest in the Iraq war remained high despite relatively little news coverage More than three-in-ten Americans followed news about the situation in Iraq very closely and 20% listed this as their most closely followed story of the week. Coverage of the Iraq policy debate has fallen off dramatically since September, and public interest in the debate continues to lag behind interest in the war itself. Last week 21% of the public paid very close attention to the debate in Washington over U.S. policy in Iraq; 5% listed this as their most closely followed story of the week.

The public’s interest in economic news remains moderate and has not grown in recent months. Roughly a quarter of the public (27%) paid very close attention to economic news last week and 16% listed this as the story they followed most closely.

In other news last week, the public paid relatively little attention to tropical storm Noel (which was later upgraded to a hurricane). Just one-in-ten (11%) followed news about the storm very closely and 7% listed it as their most closely followed story of the week.

Just 10% of the public paid very close attention to the nomination of Michael Mukasey to be the next attorney general — basically unchanged from September when George Bush announced Mukasey as his choice. Democrats paid closer attention than Republicans to this story.

These findings are based on the most recent installment of the weekly News Interest Index, an ongoing project of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The index, building on the Center’s longstanding research into public attentiveness to major news stories, examines news interest as it relates to the news media’s agenda. The weekly survey is conducted in conjunction with The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, which monitors the news reported by major newspaper, television, radio and online news outlets on an ongoing basis. In the most recent week, data relating to news coverage was collected from October 28 — November 2 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week was collected November 2-5 from a nationally representative sample of 1,009 adults.

About the News Interest Index

The News Interest Index is a weekly survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press aimed at gauging the public’s interest in and reaction to major news events.

This project has been undertaken in conjunction with the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, an ongoing content analysis of the news. The News Coverage Index catalogues the news from top news organizations across five major sectors of the media: newspapers, network television, cable television, radio and the internet. Each week (from Sunday through Friday) PEJ will compile this data to identify the top stories for the week. The News Interest Index survey will collect data from Friday through Monday to gauge public interest in the most covered stories of the week.

Results for the weekly surveys are based on telephone interviews among a nationwide sample of approximately 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older, conducted under the direction of ORC (Opinion Research Corporation). For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls, and that results based on subgroups will have larger margins of error.

For more information about the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, go to www.journalism.org.