May 28, 2008

Greater Coverage of McCain, But Public Still Focused on Obama

Most Expect Gas Prices To Reach $5 a Gallon or More

Summary of Findings

Despite a significant increase in news coverage of John McCain last week, Barack Obama remained by far the most visible candidate in the eyes of the public. Fully half of the public said Obama was the candidate they had heard the most about in the news recently, while only 8% said they had heard the most about the presumptive GOP nominee.

McCain was featured prominently in 41% of all campaign news last week, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Campaign Coverage Index. That is still significantly less than the amount of coverage devoted to Obama – 62% of the campaign newshole – but is more coverage than McCain has received in any week since February’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Much of the week’s coverage of McCain dealt with two specific events: the release of the senator’s medical records and the controversy surrounding two ministers who had endorsed him.

Neither of these events registered widely with the public. Just 18% heard a lot about McCain releasing his medical records; roughly the same proportion (22%) heard a lot about the controversial comments made by two prominent evangelical pastors who supported McCain, and McCain’s subsequent disavowal of that support. By contrast, fully 55% heard a lot about Barack Obama gaining a majority of the pledged delegates from the Democratic presidential primaries.

Overall, the national news media devoted 37% of its coverage to the presidential campaign, making it by far the most heavily covered news story of the week. News that U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor also drew considerable coverage (8% of all news coverage).

Gas Prices Top News Interest

Once again, the public was focused much more heavily on the rising price of gasoline than on the presidential campaign. Nearly two-thirds of the public (65%) say they followed news about gas prices very closely last week; more than a third (35%) said the price of gas was the story they followed more closely than any other news item. The national news media devoted 6% of its overall coverage to this story.

Most Americans expect gas prices to continue rising over the next few months. When asked how much a gallon of gas might cost at the end of the summer, a majority (54%) says they expect to pay around $5 per gallon, with an additional 10% saying they expect prices to reach $7 per gallon. Just a third of Americans say that, by summer’s end, gas prices will be at about their current level of $4 per gallon.

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 May 19-25 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week was collected May 22-25 from a nationally representative sample of 1,004 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.