June 17, 2008

More Hear Negative News About Michelle Obama than Cindy McCain

Coverage of the Candidates' Wives

Summary of Findings.

With the major party nominations now settled, the images of the candidates’ wives are coming into sharper focus. While opinions about Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama are mostly positive, Mrs. Obama has emerged as the more high profile and controversial spouse.

More Americans have heard a lot about Michelle Obama than Cindy McCain, and Mrs. Obama has received much more media coverage than Mrs. McCain. However, somewhat more of those who have heard about Mrs. Obama say the coverage of her has been mostly negative rather than mostly positive (by 26% to 21%); by comparsion, 31% of those who have heard about Mrs. McCain say coverage of her has been mostly positive while just 7% say it has been generally negative.

Overall, 78% of Americans have heard at least a little about Michelle Obama. Three-in-ten say they have heard a lot about Mrs. Obama, up from 21% just three weeks ago. By contrast, just 54% have heard at least a little about Cindy McCain, including only 9% who have heard a lot about her.

News coverage of Michelle Obama has far outweighed that of Cindy McCain. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Campaign Coverage Index, from Jan. 1 through June 15 of this year, Obama appeared as a significant newsmaker in 102 stories. Cindy McCain has appeared in just 28 stories over this period.1 Coverage of Michelle Obama has increased dramatically in recent weeks – nearly half of the stories featuring her have appeared in the national news media since May 14.

In evaluating coverage of Mrs. Obama and Mrs. McCain, roughly half of those who have heard about each say what they have been hearing or reading about them has been a mixture of positive and negative news (49% say that about Michelle Obama vs. 53% for Cindy McCain). But significantly more say what they have been hearing about Mrs. Obama is negative than say that about Mrs. McCain (26% vs. 7%).

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they have been hearing mostly negative news about Michelle Obama. Among the Republicans who have heard at least a little about Mrs. Obama, 33% say most of what they have heard or read about her has been negative. Only 10% say most of the news about Obama has been positive. On balance, Democrats who have heard about Mrs. Obama say the news has been mostly positive (30% vs. 21% who say mostly negative).

There is no significant party gap in views of the coverage of Cindy McCain. Very few Republicans, Democrats or independents say most of the news about Mrs. McCain has been negative.

Overall Opinions of Candidates’ Wives

According to a recent People-Press survey, voters’ opinions of Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain are largely favorable. However, Mrs. Obama gets slightly higher negative ratings than does Mrs. McCain: 22% of voters had an unfavorable view of Obama last month while 16% had an unfavorable view of McCain. [See “McCain’s Negatives Mostly Political, Obama’s More Personal” released May 29, 2008 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.]

Michelle Obama’s unfavorable ratings are particularly high among Republicans. Nearly four-in-ten GOP voters (39%) have an unfavorable opinion of Obama. Democrats do not react nearly so negatively to Cindy McCain. Among Democratic voters, 26% have an unfavorable opinion of John McCain’s wife. The good news for Michelle Obama is that Democrats are more enthusiastic about her than Republicans are about Cindy McCain. 65% of registered Democrats have a favorable view of Mrs. Obama. Fewer Republicans (54%) have a favorable opinion of Mrs. McCain.

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.

  1. As defined in the Campaign Coverage Index, significant newsmaker means that at least 25 percent of the story is about that figure.