July 8, 2010

Public Sees Economic News Turning More Negative

Oil Leak Still Most Closely Followed News

Summary of Findings

Public perceptions of economic news have turned much more negative. Currently, 42% say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy, the highest percentage in a year. Last month, 30% of the public said they were hearing mostly bad news about the economy.

The proportion saying they are hearing a mix of good and bad economic news has declined from 65% in June to 54% currently. This marks the first time this year that the percentage hearing mixed economic news has fallen below 60%, according to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted July 1-5 among 1,007 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Just 3% say they are hearing mostly good news, about the same as the 4% that said this last month.

More Americans also say they are hearing mostly bad news about two major aspects of the economy – the job situation and real estate values – than did so in May. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about jobs, up from 52% in May.

In a week that featured several high-profile economic stories – including a weak June employment report, negative housing numbers, a rough stretch for stock markets and talk of a “double dip” recession – public interest in economic news increased. Just under half (48%) say they followed reports about the condition of the U.S. economy very closely, up from 37% the previous week.

Nonetheless, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico remained the public’s top story. About half (52%) say they followed news about the oil leak most closely; the economy was a distant second at 13%. The media divided its attention among several major stories, including the oil leak (15% of the newshole), the economy (13%) and the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan (11%), according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).

More Republicans Hearing Mostly Bad News

Fully half of Republicans (52%) say they are now hearing mostly bad news about the economy, up from 37% in June. More independents also say they are hearing negative news about the economy than did so then (43% today, 30% in June). By contrast, there has been less change in perceptions among Democrats: 31% say economic news is mostly bad, while 25% said that in June.

Those who follow news about the economy very closely also are more likely than those following less closely to say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy (47% vs. 37%). The percentage of both groups saying they are hearing mostly bad economic news has risen since June.

News about Specific Economic Issues

In terms of specific types of economic news, more Americans say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation than about real estate values, financial markets or prices for food and consumer goods.

The proportion saying they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation has increased by 12 points since May, while the percentage saying they are hearing mostly bad news about real estate values has risen by eight points (from 41% to 49%).

About as many now say they hearing mostly bad news about financial markets (46%) as mixed news (44%). In May, slightly more said they were hearing mixed news, rather than mostly negative news, about financial markets (49% to 41%).

Perceptions of the news about prices for food and consumer goods are somewhat less negative than other types of news. Nearly half (48%) say they are hearing mixed news about prices while 32% are hearing mostly bad news. These numbers have changed little since May.

Perceptions of Job News Worsen

The public’s perception of news about the job situation, which became more positive in May, has returned to about the same level as in January, when 61% said they were hearing mostly bad news about jobs.

Still, views of job news are not quite as negative as they were in June 2009, when 71% said they were hearing mostly bad news about this segment of the economy.

In the current survey, 76% of Republicans say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation, compared with 54% of Democrats and 63% of independents. Four-in-ten Democrats say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about this, compared with 22% of Republicans and 29% of independents.

Among those following economic news very closely, 71% say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation, compared with 57% of those following economic news less closely.

Republicans also are more likely to say they are hearing mostly bad news about the financial markets (57%), compared with Democrats (39%) or independents (47%). There are smaller partisan differences in perceptions of news about real estate values and prices.

Public Stays Focused on Gulf Oil Leak, Media Attention Divided

Americans continue to say they are tracking news about the environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico more closely than any other story. More than half (52%) say this is the news they are following most closely. Looking at a separate measure, 57% say they are following the oil leak very closely, about the same level of interest as the past five weeks.

According to PEJ, media coverage last week was divided among several major stories. The oil leak accounted for 15% of the newshole, not much more than the 13% of coverage devoted to the economic developments.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings on Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination accounted for 11% of coverage, though the public showed relatively little interest. Just 16% say they followed this news very closely. That’s not much different from the 20% in July 2009 who said they were very closely following the hearings for President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. Kagan’s hearings produced no surprises and little drama; 3% say this was the news they followed most closely.

About a third (34%) say they followed news about the immigration debate very closely; 11% say this was the news they followed most closely. In early May, 38% said they very closely followed news about Arizona’s new law giving police greater authority to question people they stop who they suspect might be illegal immigrants. Last week, immigration stories accounted for 3% of the coverage analyzed by PEJ.

About three-in-ten (29%) say they followed developments in Afghanistan very closely. This was the most closely followed story for 6% of the public. One week earlier, 28% said they very closely followed news about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ouster from his post as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal and top aides had made critical comments about the civilian leadership of the war in a Rolling Stone article.

Interest in the arrest by American law enforcement of 11 people suspected of being spies for Russia was similar to interest in Kagan’s confirmation hearings; 15% say they followed this story very closely. It was the story followed most closely by 2%. Coverage of the alleged spy ring accounted for 8% of the newshole.

Few Hearing Much About Talks on Financial Regulation Bill

Though many Americans say they are closely tracking news about the economy, relatively few (15%) say they have heard a lot about negotiations underway in Congress on a final version o
f legislation to boost regulation of the financial services industry. More than four-in-ten (43%) say they have heard a little about these negotiations, though a comparable 41% say they have heard nothing at all about them.

Roughly comparable numbers of Republicans (15%), Democrats (13%) and independents (17%) say they have heard a lot about this. Those with higher incomes or more education are more likely to say they have heard a lot about this story than those with lower incomes or less education.

Close to three-in-ten (28%) say they heard a lot about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of state and local gun control laws. Four-in-ten (41%) say they heard a little about this ruling and 30% say they heard nothing at all about this. Republicans (34%) are more likely than Democrats (22%) to say they had heard a lot about the ruling. Among independents, 29% say they heard a lot about the gun ruling.

Just more than a quarter (27%) say they heard a lot about the death of Robert C. Byrd, the long-serving Democratic U.S. senator from West Virginia. More than four-in-ten (42%) say they heard a little about this, while 30% say they heard nothing at all.

About a quarter (24%) say they heard a lot about the start of negotiations between Lebron James, the NBA-superstar free agent, and various NBA teams. Three-in-ten say they heard a little about this, but 45% say they heard nothing at all. About three-in-ten men (29%) say they heard a lot about this story, compared with 19% of women.

Few had heard much about the announcement that long-time CNN host Larry King will retire from his show this fall; 45% say they heard a little about this, while 39% say they had heard nothing at all.

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 June 28-July 4, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected July 1-5, 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. (For more information about the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, go to www.journalism.org.) 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 this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a national sample of 1,007 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from July 1-5, 2010 (675 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 332 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 136 who had no landline telephone). Both the landline and cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English.

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin, 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 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.

Cite this publication: “Public Sees Economic News Turning More Negative.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (July 8, 2010) http://www.people-press.org/2010/07/08/public-sees-economic-news-turning-more-negative/, accessed on July 23, 2014.