January 13, 2010

Public Stays with Health Care, Media Focuses on Terror

Americans Still See Jobs News as Mostly Bad

Summary of Findings

The public and the media went their own ways on the news last week. The media kept up heavy coverage of the aftermath of the attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Day, while the public focused most closely on the health care debate in Washington.

About a quarter (26%) of Americans say the debate over health care reform was the story they followed most closely, while 17% say they followed news about the government’s response to the attempted terror attack on a Northwest Airlines jet more closely than any other major story.

By another measure, the percentage of Americans saying they followed the government’s response to the failed terror attack “very closely” rivals interest in the other major stories of the week: 37% say they followed this story very closely. Just more than four-in-ten (42%) say they followed news about the harsh winter weather very closely, while 39% each say the same about the economy and the health care debate, according to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted Jan. 8-11 among 1,043 adults nationwide by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Coverage of the aftermath of the alleged attempt by a young Nigerian to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam accounted for 22% of news coverage last week, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That includes 17% of coverage specifically about the incident and the government’s decision to try the suspect in federal court and another 5% dedicated to issues involving airport security. (The airport security stories are included in a broader category of coverage dedicated to domestic anti-terror efforts in PEJ’s analysis.) Coverage of this story – which centered on security procedures at the nation’s airports, the suspect’s indictment and concerns about why he had not been flagged earlier as a potential danger – was especially heavy on network and cable television.

While 26% of Americans say they tracked the debate over health care legislation more closely than any other story last week, coverage of news related to the debate was limited. It accounted for just 4% of the newshole examined by PEJ. News about the economy – the most closely followed story for 17% of the public last week – accounted for 10% of the newshole.

Close to two-in-ten (18%) say they followed the extreme winter weather more closely than any other story. About four-in-ten (42%) say they followed this story very closely, but interest was especially high in the regions most hard hit. More than half (53%) in the South and the Midwest (51%) say they followed this news very closely. Stories about the cold weather accounted for 4% of the national newshole.

About a quarter of the public (24%) say they very closely followed news about the deadly suicide bomb in Afghanistan on Dec. 30 that killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer; 6% say this was the story they followed most closely last week. The incident accounted for 3% of coverage, according to PEJ.

And with the announcement that several prominent lawmakers would not seek reelection this year, stories about the midterm elections made up 8% of coverage. Two-in-ten Americans say they followed news about the 2010 elections very closely. Just 2% say they followed these stories more closely than any other major news.

Economic News: A Mixed Bag

About two-thirds of Americans (65%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the economy. That’s up six points from early December. About three-in-ten (29%) say they are hearing mostly bad news, not much different from the 33% that said this in early December. Just 5% say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy, about the same as the 7% that said the same last month.

More Republicans (37%) than Democrats (24%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy, while 30% of independents say they are hearing mostly negative economic news. Seven-in-ten Democrats, 65% of independents and 58% of Republicans say they are hearing mostly mixed news about the economy.

Looking at specific sectors of the economy, the picture is more nuanced. With unemployment at 10%, a large majority (61%) says they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation. The percentage hearing mostly bad news has fallen seven points since early November, when it stood at 68%.

A plurality of Americans (47%) is hearing mixed news about financial markets, 32% are hearing mostly bad news about markets and 16% say they are hearing mostly good news. The figures are similar for news about prices for food and consumer goods. A plurality (45%) is hearing mixed news about prices while 37% say they are hearing mostly bad news. Another 12% say are hearing mostly good news. More than four-in-ten (43%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about real estate values, but about as many (40%) say they are hearing mixed news; 11% say they are hearing mostly good news. These figures are little changed since last summer.

Most Expect Health Care Reform Bill to Pass

As political leaders work on compromise for the health care reform bill behind closed doors, Americans continue to pay close attention to the issue and most expect a bill will pass.

About six-in-ten (59%) say they expect a bill to pass this year, while 29% predict a bill will not pass. This is little changed from mid-December, when 61% expected a bill to pass and 34% said a bill would not pass. Democrats are notably more likely to predict passage – 68% say health care legislative will pass – than are independents (58%) or Republicans (50%).

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 coverage. 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, In the most recent week, data relating to news coverage were collected from Jan. 4-10, 2010, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected December Jan. 8-11, 2010, from a nationally representative sample of 1,043 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 Monday through Sunday) PEJ compiles this data to identify the top stories for the week. The News Interest Index survey collects 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 landline 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 4 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 Stays with Health Care, Media Focuses on Terror.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (January 13, 2010) http://www.people-press.org/2010/01/13/public-stays-with-health-care-media-focuses-on-terror/, accessed on July 23, 2014.