November 25, 2008

Public Closely Tracking Obama Transition

Michelle Obama Coverage Seen as Positive

Summary of Findings

In addition to following the major economic headlines last week, the public tuned into news about the Obama transition. Fully 49% followed news about plans for the new Obama administration very closely and one-in-four said this was the single news story they followed more closely than any other, making it the second most closely followed news story after the economy.

Americans are paying close attention to the choices Obama has made thus far in staffing his administration. Half have heard a lot about the appointments Obama has made to his cabinet and senior White House staff. And more than six-in-ten (62%) have heard a lot about the possibility that Obama will choose Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

The public is less tuned into news about the Obama family and their transition to the White House. Roughly a quarter (23%) say they have heard a lot about what type of puppy the Obamas might get and where the two Obama girls will attend school. Another 42% have heard a little about this, and 34% haven’t heard anything at all.

Most Americans have heard at least a little about Michelle Obama in the news recently and the role she will play as First Lady – 17% have heard a lot, 47% have heard a little. And most of what they’ve been hearing has been positive. Two-thirds of those who have heard at least a little about Michelle Obama recently say the news has been mostly positive. Only 3% say the news about the future first lady has been mostly negative, and 28% say it has been a mix of both.

This represents a dramatic shift in perceptions from earlier this year. In June, going into the general election cycle, only 21% of those who were hearing about Michelle Obama said the news had been mostly positive. Roughly half said it had been a mix of positive and negative news, and as many as 26% said the news about Mrs. Obama had been mostly negative.

Republicans were among the most likely to say they had been hearing more negative than positive news about Michelle Obama in June (33% mostly negative vs. 10% mostly positive). Now Democrats, Republicans and independents all agree recent news about Mrs. Obama has been mostly positive.

Interest in Economic News Remains High

With U.S. auto executives testifying on Capitol Hill and dramatic fluctuations on Wall Street, the public stayed focused on economic news last week. Fully 59% followed news about the economy very closely, up marginally from the previous week. Half followed stock market news very closely, only slightly less than the percentage that followed the market’s dramatic downturn last month.

In addition, 41% paid very close attention to the debate in Congress over a government bailout for the U.S. auto industry. Interest in the plight of the Big Three increased dramatically from the previous week, when 30% were following the problems of the auto industry very closely.

When asked which news story they followed most closely last week, 27% listed general economic conditions making it the public’s top news interest of the week. Some 15% listed the stock market as their most closely followed story, and 14% pointed to the potential bailout for the car companies.

Those with annual household incomes of more than $75,000 are more likely than lower income Americans to be closely following each of the major economic stories. The biggest gap can be seen on the stock market, where 64% of those making over $75,000 were following market news very closely last week compared with roughly 40% of those making less than $75,000.

While news about the incoming Obama administration was the most heavily covered story last week, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), the national media focused heavily on the economy as well. The media devoted 15% of its overall coverage to the nation’s financial crisis and an equal amount to news about the U.S. auto industry. In addition, 2% of the national newshole focused exclusively on major ups and downs in the U.S. stock market.

In other news, a third of Americans (32%) followed the situation in Iraq very closely last week, but only 5% listed this as their most closely followed story of the week. Despite significant developments, namely the approval of a formal agreement dictating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region by 2011, the national news media devoted 2% of its overall coverage to events in Iraq, according to PEJ.

One-in-five Americans (19%) paid very close attention to news about Somali pirates hijacking a Saudi Arabian supertanker. The media devoted 3% of its overall coverage 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 were collected from November 17-23 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected November 21-24 from a nationally representative sample of 1,007 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.

Cite this publication: “Public Closely Tracking Obama Transition.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 25, 2008) http://www.people-press.org/2008/11/25/public-closely-tracking-obama-transition/, accessed on July 23, 2014.