April 6, 2011

Public Sees Better News about Jobs, But Not Prices

Japan Disaster Still Dominates Public's News Interest

Summary of Findings

With the employment picture slowly improving in recent months, fewer Americans say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation. At the same time, perceptions of news about prices – especially gas prices – remain overwhelmingly negative.

Currently, 43% say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation – down seven points from last month and the lowest percentage since June 2009, when the question was first asked. About as many (42%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news, while 12% say they are hearing mostly good news about jobs.

However, perceptions of news about prices – gas prices as well as prices for food and consumer goods – have gotten worse since February. Currently, 88% say they are hearing mostly bad news about gas prices and 59% say the same about prices of food and consumer goods.

The public’s views of news about the overall economy have improved since last month: 60% say they are hearing mixed news, while 33% say the news is mostly bad and 5% say the economic news is mostly good. Last month, 38% said the news was mostly bad. But in January, just 24% said news about the economy was mostly bad.

According to the latest News Index Interest survey, conducted March 31-April 3 among 1,008 adults, the public continued to track the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan more closely than any other news last week. But Americans also kept a close watch on economic news. Half (50%) say they followed news about the disaster in Japan very closely; 42% say the same about economic news. Still, they followed news about Japan much more intensely: 50% say they followed news about Japan more closely than any other major story, compared with 14% who tracked the economy most closely.

Media coverage of the unrest in Libya continues to surpass public interest in this story. News about the fighting in Libya – and the airstrikes conducted by U.S. and NATO forces – accounted for 34% of the newshole, much more than any other story, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Just 13% of the public says this was the news they followed most closely.

The aftermath of the March 11 disaster in Japan accounted for 12% of coverage, down from 15% one week earlier and 57% the week before that. And news about the economy – including last week’s upbeat news about employment and more negative numbers on housing prices – made up 10% of coverage.

Perceptions of Economic News

Perceptions of economic news have fluctuated since mid-2009 – along with the ups and downs of an economy struggling to recover. During the first half of 2010, about two-thirds of the public said they were hearing a mix of good and bad economic news, but then perceptions grew more negative as the recovery stalled.

At the start of 2011, the public detected a more upbeat tone to economic news, but that perception soon worsened as concerns grew about gas prices and inflation.

In January, 68% said they were hearing mixed economic news while just 24% said the news was mostly bad. By March, just 53% said they were hearing mixed news and 38% said they were hearing mostly bad news. In the new survey, 60% say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the economy while 33% say the news is mostly bad.

Differing Views of News about Jobs and Prices

The public’s views of news about the job situation and prices for food and consumer goods have moved in the opposite directions since December. Currently, 43% say the news about the job situation is mostly bad, down 23 points since December.

By contrast, 59% say they are hearing mostly bad news about food and consumer prices. That is little changed from last month (62%), but is up 18 points since December 2010. Moreover, opinions of the news about gas prices are overwhelmingly negative (88% mostly bad).

The public’s view of news about real estate values – like perceptions of job news – have improved since December. Currently, 48% say news about real estate is mostly bad, while 38% say they are hearing more mixed news. That is essentially unchanged from March, but better than in December, when 62% said they were hearing mostly bad news and 28% said they were hearing a mix.

Perceptions of news about financial markets – already more positive than most other sectors – are little changed since March, despite recent stock market increases. Currently, 51% say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about this, 30% say they are hearing mostly bad news and 13% say they are hearing mostly good news.

Republicans See More Bad Economic News Than Do Democrats

Republicans offer more negative assessments of recent economic news than do Democrats or independents. More than four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy, compared with 26% of Democrats and 30% of independents. About half of Republicans (53%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news; 65% of Democrats and 63% of independents say this.

About half of Republicans (49%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation, compared with 34% of Democrats. Independents fall in between (42%). Fully 17% of Democrats say they are hearing mostly good news about jobs, almost double the 9% of Republicans who say this.

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (65%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about food and consumer prices, compared with 53% of Democrats. About six-in-ten independents (61%) say the same.

More than half of Republicans (54%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about real estate values, compared with 42% of Democrats.

The Week’s News

For the second week in a row, the public kept its focus on the aftermath of the disaster in Japan, while the fighting in Libya received the most media coverage.

Despite the violence and the U.S. role in the fighting, interest in the situation in Libya is comparable to interest in more general economic news. Fewer than four-in-ten (37%) say they followed news about the airstrikes in Libya very closely; this was the top story for 13%. Meanwhile, 42% say they followed news about the economic situation very closely, while this was the top story for 14%.

Men are more likely than women to say they have been following the U.S. and allied air strikes in Libya very closely (43% vs. 31%). There is no significant difference among partisans on this story.

Three-in-ten (30%) say they very closely followed the discussions in Washington about how to address the federal budget deficit; 6% say they followed this news more closely than any other top story. More than a third of Republicans (36%) say they are following the budget debate very closely, compared with 27% of Democrats. News about the budget debate made up 5% of coverage.

Just 15% say they very closely followed news that broke late in the week about deadly protests in Afghanistan that followed a Florida pastor’s burning of a Koran; 1% say this was the news they followed most closely. This story accounted for 1% of coverage.

And 13% say they followed the NCAA basketball tournament very closely, down slightly from the 18% that said this in 2010; 5% say this was the news they followed most closely. News about the tournament accounted for 1% of the coverage measured by PEJ.

Many Unaware of Food Dye Scare, Afghan Photos

Nearly half of the public says they heard nothing at all last week about the Food and Drug Administration looking into whether artificial food dyes can cause hyperactivity in children or the publication of grisly photos tied to allegations that U.S. soldiers murdered civilians in Afghanistan.

Fully 48% say they heard nothing at all about the FDA action; 12% say they heard a lot about this story and 40% say they heard a little. Women are almost twice as likely to say they heard a lot about this topic than are men (15% versus 8%).

Fully 47% say they heard nothing at all about the publication of photos and videos allegedly taken by U.S. soldiers accused of killing Afghans; 11% say they heard a lot about the photos and videos, while 41% say they heard a little.  Last fall, when five soldiers tied to these incidents were charged with premeditated murder, 15% had heard a lot about the story and 45% had heard a little.

More had heard about a Supreme Court hearing last week about a major gender discrimination case involving Wal-Mart. Two-in-ten (20%) say they heard a lot about this story, while 44% say they heard a little. About a third (35%) say they heard nothing at all about this. The hearing dealt with whether women who have worked at Wal-Mart may sue the retailer in a class action law suit.

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 28 to April 3, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected March 31 to April 3, from a nationally representative sample of 1,008 adults.

Cite this publication: “Public Sees Better News about Jobs, But Not Prices.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (April 6, 2011) http://www.people-press.org/2011/04/06/public-sees-better-news-about-jobs-but-not-prices/, accessed on July 23, 2014.