April 7, 2010

Public Remains Focused on Health Care Reform

News on Jobs Still Seen as Mostly Bad

Summary of Findings

Americans say they tracked news about the newly enacted health care reform law more closely than other major news stories last week, though the health care debate did not dominate coverage as it had during the final votes in Congress late last month.

Close to half the public (48%) followed news about the new health care law most closely last week, dwarfing the 8% following the other top policy story, the economy, that closely, according to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press among 1,016 adults April 1-5. In terms of coverage, economic news rivaled news about health care. The economy made up 10% of coverage, while health care news made up 9%.

While most Americans say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the economy generally, a majority (56%) continues to say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation. That is despite the release of a federal employment report on April 2 that showed the creation of 162,000 new jobs last month. The percentage holding this view is comparable to last month (59%), but down 12 points from 68% at the start of November 2009. A third of the public (33%) says they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the job situation, while 9% say they are hearing mostly good news.

In contrast to news about jobs, two-thirds (66%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the economy generally, a number little changed in recent months. Close to three-in-ten (28%) say the economic news they have been hearing has been mostly bad, while 6% say it has been mostly good. Those numbers also are little changed.

Half of the public says they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about financial markets, 30% say they are hearing mostly bad news and 15% say they are hearing mostly good news about this. Almost four-in-ten (38%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about real estate values, while 44% say they are hearing mostly bad news and 12% say they are hearing mostly good news.

Close to half (46%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about prices for food and consumer goods; 35% say they are hearing mostly bad news and 10% say they are hearing mostly good news. On each question, the numbers have fluctuated only slightly in recent months.

With the health care legislation already signed into law, the media divided its attention last week among a number of breaking stories. None accounted for more than 10% of coverage, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). Two weeks ago, the health care story accounted for 45% of the newshole – including reports about threats and vandalism directed at lawmakers. That week, 66% of the public said that the health care debate was the story they were following most closely.

Differing Partisan Views on Economic News

Just as in March, Republicans are somewhat more likely than Democrats to say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy (32% vs. 23%), a view shared by 26% of independents. Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say they are hearing bad news about the job situation (62% vs. 49%); 56% of independents say job news is mostly negative. About four-in-ten Democrats (42%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about jobs, compared with 27% of Republicans and 33% of independents. Partisan differences are less pronounced in assessments of news about other aspects of the economy.

Pluralities say news organizations are giving the right amount of coverage to both the economy (46%) and the new health care law (46%). About a third (34%) say the media is giving too little coverage to the economy, about the same as the 30% that say this about the new health care law. Just 15% say news organizations are giving too much attention to the economy, while 17% say this about the health care law.

The Week’s Top News

Just more than four-in-ten Americans (42%) say they followed news about the new health care reform law very closely last week. In the previous two weeks, about half said they were following the debate over health care reform very closely (49% March 26-29, 51% March 19-22). Still, 48% say this was the story they followed most closely. No other story came close. News about health care reform made up 9% of the newshole, according to PEJ.

A third of the public (33%) says they followed news about the economy very closely, down from 41% the previous week; 8% say this was the story they followed most closely. The economy made up 10% of coverage.

Close to two-in-ten (18%) say they followed the NCAA basketball tournament very closely, while 11% say this was the story they followed most closely. The level of interest is comparable to the 15% that said they followed the tournament very closely in 2009.

Two-in-ten say they followed very closely the announcement of an Obama proposal to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling; 5% say this was the story they followed most closely. The drilling proposal accounted for 5% of coverage.

Just more than one-in-ten (13%) say they followed reports about the arrest of members of a Christian militia group in Michigan who were allegedly planning to kill a police officer; 4% say this was the story they followed most closely. News about the arrests made up 5% of the newshole.

And 10% say they very closely followed news about a series of suicide bombings in Russia; 3% say this was the news they followed most closely. The stories accounted for 4% of coverage.

Few Heard About Republican Party’s Tab at Racy L.A. Night Club

Four-in-ten Americans heard at least a little about the controversy last week over the Republican National Committee paying a roughly $1,900 tab for young party donors at a sexually-oriented night club in Los Angeles. Still, six-in-ten say they heard nothing at all about this.

While 16% say they heard a lot about this story, the percentage of Democrats (21%) who say this is twice the percentage of Republicans (10%). Among independents, 15% say they heard a lot about this story. In March 2009, 14% said they had heard a lot about controversial comments made by GOP Chairman Michael Steele. At that point, there was little difference among partisans (16% of Republicans and 17% of Democrats had heard a lot about this). Just 10% of independents heard a lot about that story.

About a third of the public (32%) says they heard a lot about major flooding in New England, while another 34% says they heard a little about this story. Anoth
er third (33%) says they heard nothing at all.

About a quarter (26%) say they heard a lot about President Obama signing into law major changes in the federal student loan program. Four-in-ten say they heard a little about this, while 34% say they heard nothing at all.

Just 6% say they heard a lot about the success of the Large Hadron Collider last week in smashing sub-atomic particles. Another 17% heard a little about the workings of the collider near Geneva, Switzerland, but 76% say they heard nothing at all about this.

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, data relating to news coverage were collected March 29-April 4, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected April 1-5, from a nationally representative sample of 1,016 adults. Because of Easter, polling was not conducted on Sunday, April 4.

Cite this publication: “Public Remains Focused on Health Care Reform.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (April 7, 2010) http://www.people-press.org/2010/04/07/public-remains-focused-on-health-care-reform/, accessed on July 23, 2014.