February 24, 2010

Winter Olympics Tops Public’s News Interests

More Than Half Say They Have Made Haiti Donation

Summary of Findings

Americans say they followed news about the Winter Olympics in Vancouver more closely than any other major news story last week. The Olympics also proved to be one of two stories people talked about most frequently with friends. The other was Tiger Woods’ televised apology for marital infidelities.

About a quarter of the public (24%) says they followed news about the Winter Olympics more closely than any other news story last week. But Americans also kept a close watch on two long-running stories: the troubled U.S. economy (18% most closely) and the debate over health care reform (16% most closely), according to the latest News Interest Index survey, conducted Feb. 19-22 among 1,007 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

According to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, no single story dominated coverage last week. Coverage of the economy made up 12% of the newshole. The Olympics and the ongoing war in Afghanistan each accounted for 8%, while the IRS plane crash – and reports about the pilot’s grievances with the tax agency – made up 7% of the newshole. The debate over health care reform received relatively little coverage last week (4%), while reports out of Haiti about the release of some of the American missionaries accused of kidnapping Haitian children accounted for 2%.

Most Talked About: Tiger, Olympics

When people are asked which news story they talked about with friends, 18% mention Tiger Woods and his Feb. 19 apology, while 16% say they talked about the Olympics.

None of the week’s other stories come close: 8% say they talked about the plane crash into the IRS office in Austin, while comparable percentages talked about health care reform (7%), the economy (6%), the Haiti earthquake and the release of the U.S. missionaries (6%) and politics (5%).

Sports Stories Closely Tracked by Women and Men

Close to three-in-ten women (28%) say they followed news about the Winter Olympics more closely than any other news last week, slightly greater than the 21% of men who say the same. Moreover, a greater proportion of women (19%) than men (12%) cite the Olympics as a story they have talked about with friends.

Overall, 53% say they heard a lot about Woods’ apology while 32% say they heard a little; just 15% say they heard nothing at all about this story. Slightly more women (57%) than men (49%) say they heard a lot about Woods’ apology. However, just as many women (17%) as men (18%) talked about the Woods story with friends.

Among other stories, 34% say they heard a lot about the female biology professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who allegedly killed three colleagues in a shooting rampage, 25% say they heard a lot about the announcement by Sen. Evan Bayh that he would not seek re-election this year, while 21% say they heard a lot about the arrests by Pakistan’s military of high level Taliban leaders in that country. About as many women as men heard a lot about the shooting case involving the professor in Alabama, while more men than women say they heard a lot about Bayh’s announcement and the arrests of Taliban leaders.

The Week’s Other News

Using a separate measure, 38% of Americans say they followed news about the economy very closely, while 33% say they followed the debate over health care reform very closely and 30% say they tracked the Winter Olympics very closely. Smaller percentages say they very closely followed the plane crash at the IRS offices in Austin (26%), the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan (24%) and the release of some of the U.S. missionaries accused of kidnapping Haitian children (16%).

Meanwhile, Americans continue to say that lawmakers in Washington are unlikely to enact health care reform legislation this year. The week before President Obama’s bipartisan health care summit, 27% say they think a health care reform bill will pass this year, while 62% say they do not think legislation will be enacted. That is largely unchanged from the last week in January, when 29% said it would pass and 60% said it would not. Democrats remain more likely to say legislation will pass this year (35%) than Republicans (14%) or independents (26%).

Haiti Interest, Donations

There was considerably less public interest in news about the release of most of the U.S. missionaries accused of kidnapping Haitian children than there has been in the massive earthquake that struck Haiti and its aftermath.

Just 16% say they followed news about the freed missionaries very closely. In the days following the Jan. 12 quake, 60% followed news about the Haiti earthquake very closely. While interest slipped over the next four weeks (to 37% very closely in Feb. 12-15 survey), the aftermath of the quake remained the public’s most closely story during each of those weeks.

Moreover, most Americans say they have made a donation to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake. A separate survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Feb. 3-9 among 1,383 adults, found that more than half of Americans (52%) say that they or someone in their household has made a donation to help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti; another 12% said they were planning to make a donation. In the days immediately following the quake, just 18% said they had made a donation and another 30% said they planned to give.

There are substantial demographic and political differences in the proportions that say they have made (or plan to make) a donation to those affected by the earthquake. Fully 61% of African Americans say they or someone in their household has made a donation while another 27% plan to give. That compares with 48% of whites who have made a donation and 10% who plan to.

A majority of Democrats (59%) say they or someone in their household has made a Haiti donation, compared with 49% of independents and 47% of Republicans. There also are sharp regional differences: 62% of those living in the Northeast say they have made a donation to those affected by the earthquake, compared with 50% in the South and 42% in the Midwest. Among those in the West, 57% say they gave to relief efforts.

And, as expected, those with higher family incomes are far more likely than the less affluent to say they have made a donation: 68% of those with family incomes of $75,000 or more say they have made donation compared with 53% of those with incomes of $30,000 to $74,999 and 40% of those with family incomes of less than $30,000.

That survey found that the Obama administration continues to receive positive ratings for the government’s response to the earthquake in Haiti. Nearly two-thirds (66%) say they approve of the administration’s response to the crisis while just 16% disapprove. More than eight-in-ten Democrats (84%), 65% of independents and 49% of Republicans approve of the administration’s response to the earthquake. The administration’s approval ratings on Haiti were little changed from mid-January, shortly after the earthquake struck (64% approve, 14% disapprove).

Findings about donations for Haitian earthquake relief and the Obama administration’s response to the Haitian earthquake are drawn from a Feb. 3-9 study conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press among 1,383 adults.

Findings about the public’s interest in various news stories 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, data relating to news coverage were collected Feb. 15-21, 2010, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected Feb. 19-22, 2010, 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 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.

About the February 2010 Political Survey

Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a national sample of 1,383 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from February 3-9, 2010 (1,024 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 359 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 132 who had no landline telephone). Both the landline and cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see http://www.people-press.org/methodology/.

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, region, and population density to parameters from the March 2009 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The sample is also weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2009 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size within the landline sample. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting.

The following table shows the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey:

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.