August 17, 2008

Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources

News Interest and Knowledge

FigureMost Americans continue to track local and national news most of the time, while most say they follow international news only when important developments occur. A 57% majority follows local community news closely most of the time, whether or not something important is happening. Similarly, 55% follow national news most of the time. By contrast, only 39% follow foreign news most of the time, and the majority (56%) follows it only when something important is happening.

FigureInterest in each of these broad categories of news is virtually unchanged from 2006. While interest in local news is fairly consistent across major demographic groups, interest in national and international news is driven in part by socioeconomic factors. College graduates are significantly more likely than those who never attended college to follow both national and international news most of the time, not just when something important is happening. In addition, those with higher annual incomes follow national and international news on a more consistent basis.

Large majorities of the regular viewers of major cable TV talk shows closely track national news. Among the regular audiences of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Hannity & Colmes, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and The O’Reilly Factor, three-quarters or more say they follow national news most of the time, not just when something important is happening.

Beyond the cable shows, other audiences that pay particularly close attention to national news include readers of magazines such as The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine and The New Yorker; Rush Limbaugh listeners, NPR listeners, and those who regularly watch the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer or the network Sunday morning news programs.

Weather’s Broad Appeal

FigureIn terms of the public’s specific news interests, weather has consistently been a closely followed news topic. Nearly half of Americans (48%) say they follow weather news very closely, which is largely unchanged from 2006 (50%). No other topic generates close to this level of interest. Crime is the next highest-rated topic, but just 28% say they follow crime news very closely.

While more women than men say they are very interested in weather news – and more older people than younger people – interest in weather news is broadly shared. For instance, half of those with family incomes of $150,000 a year or more say they follow weather news very closely, as do about the same proportion of those with incomes of less than $30,000 (47%).

Crime news continues to attract much greater interest among African Americans than among whites. Half of blacks say they follow crime news very closely, compared with 23% of whites. And, unlike most news subjects, crime draws somewhat more interest among young people than among older Americans; 31% of those younger than 50 say they follow crime news very closely, compared with 24% of those 50 and older.

In general, the public’s news interests have changed little in recent years. There has been a slight increase in the proportion saying they follow news about political figures and events in Washington, from 17% in 2006 to 21% currently. Still, interest in this subject is a bit less than it was in 2004 and the same as in 2000.

Gender Gap in News Interests…

FigureMen are particularly drawn to news about science and technology, sports, business and finance, international affairs, and Washington politics. For example, fully 71% of those who follow science and technology news very closely are men, while only 29% are women.

Women, on the other hand, make up a disproportionate share of the audiences for celebrity and entertainment news, health news and news about religion. Among those who follow health news very closely, 64% are women while 36% are men. In addition, women outnumber men among those who closely follow news about the weather, travel, culture, and community news.

And News Audiences

The gender differences in some news audiences reflect the disparities in men and women’s news interests. The audiences for several politically oriented radio and cable talk shows are largely male. Roughly seven-in-ten (72%) regular listeners of Rush Limbaugh’s radio are men, as are two-thirds of the regular viewers of Hannity & Colmes and The Daily Show (67%, 66%). In addition, 62% of those who regularly watch Hardball with Chris Matthews are men, as are 60% who watch Lou Dobbs. Men also make up more than half of the regular audiences for the O’Reilly Factor, The Colbert Report and Larry King Live.

FigureSeveral print outlets also rely on men for their core readership. Business magazines, as well as magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper’s Magazine, have readerships that are predominantly male.

Women outnumber men among those who regularly listen to religious radio; 69% of religious radio listeners are women, while just 31% are men. Network TV news outlets also draw in more women than men among their regular viewers. The disparity is particularly evident in the audience for morning news programs, such the Today show. Almost two-thirds of (65%) regular viewers of these programs are women while 35% are men.

Public’s Knowledge

About half of Americans (53%) can correctly identify the Democrats as the party that has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. In February 2007, shortly after the Democrats gained control of the House after a dozen years of GOP rule, many more people (76%) knew the Democrats held the majority.

FigureThe public is less familiar with the secretary of state (Condoleezza Rice) and the prime minister of Great Britain (Gordon Brown). About four-in-ten (42%) can name Rice as the current secretary of state. The public’s ability to identify Rice has not changed much over recent years: In April 2006 and December 2004, shortly before she was sworn in, 43% could correctly identify her.

The prime minister of Great Britain is not well known among the public. Just more than a quarter (28%) can correctly identify Gordon Brown as the leader of Great Britain.

Overall, 18% of the public is able to correctly answer all three political knowledge questions, while a third (33%) do not know the answer to any of the questions.

Large majorities of college graduates know that Democrats have a majority in the House (71%) and named Rice as secretary of state (65%); however, slightly fewer than half of college graduates (47%) named Brown as the prime minister of Great Britain. Less educated people are less aware of these facts; among high school graduates, 45% knew that the Democrats have a majority in the House, 32% named Rice as secretary of state, and just 19% named Brown as the British prime minister.

People younger than 30 are less well informed on these questions than are older Americans, while women are somewhat less likely than men to be able to identify Rice, Brown and the majority party in the House of Representatives.

More Republicans than Democrats or independents know which party currently controls the House of Representatives: 64% of Republicans know that Democrats have a majority compared with 54% of Democrats and half of independents. Members of both parties struggle to identify Gordon Brown, while Republicans (48%) are slightly more likely than Democrats (41%) to know that Condoleezza Rice is the secretary of state.

Knowledgeable News Audiences

FigureRegular readers of magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harper’s Magazine stand out for their political knowledge; almost half (48%) can correctly identify Rice, Brown and the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives. NPR listeners rank closely behind, with 44% of regular listeners registering a high knowledge score. More than four-in-ten regular Hardball (43%) and Hannity & Colmes (42%) viewers also score relatively high for political knowledge.

In general, well-educated news audiences have high levels of political knowledge; for instance, 54% of regular readers of publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper’s Magazine are college graduates, as are 54% of regular NPR listeners. However, a greater proportion of regular readers of business magazines are college graduates (60%), but just 36% answered all three political knowledge questions correctly.

Just a third of regular Rush Limbaugh listeners are college graduates, but this audience scored as well on political knowledge as did regular business magazine readers. Similarly, only about three-in-ten (31%) regular Hannity & Colmes listeners are college graduates, but a relatively large proportion (42%) answered all three questions correctly.

Some highly knowledgeable and attentive news audiences – such as The New Yorker’s, Limbaugh’s, Hannity & Colmes’ or Hardball’s – are older than average. However, age is not always a correlate of political knowledge: the CBS Evening News has one of the oldest audiences of the news outlets included on the survey; 63% of the regular viewers of this program are 50 or older. But just 10% of regular CBS News viewers correctly answered the three questions.

The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are notable for having relatively well-informed audiences that are younger than the national average: 34% of regular Colbert viewers answered the three political knowledge questions correctly, as did 30% of regular Daily Show viewers. Less than a quarter of either audience is older than 50 (22% Colbert, 23% Daily Show), compared with 41% of the general public.