September 28, 2011

Economy Again Top Story for Public and News Media

Racial Divide in Interest in Troy Davis Execution

Overview

Amid continued uncertainty at home and abroad, economic news was once again the top story last week for both the public and the news media.

Three-in-ten (31%) say they followed news about the condition of the U.S. economy more closely than any other news last week, according to the latest weekly News Interest Index survey, conducted Sept. 22-25 among 1,000 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Another 16% cite the related debate in Washington over jobs and the deficit as their top story.

Adding various story lines together, economic news easily topped coverage as well.  News about the economy in general made up 14% of the newshole while news about the debate in Washington over steps the government should take to address the situation accounted for another 13%, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).

News about the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia also drew significant interest, with 10% saying this was the story they followed most closely. But African Americans tracked the story much more closely than whites or the public as a whole. About two-in-ten African Americans (22%) say this was their top story of the week. That ranked nearly as high as news about the economy (27% most closely). Among whites, just 9% say the execution was their top story. Three times as many (31%) cite the economy as the story they followed most closely.

The Week’s News

With global stock markets fluctuating dramatically and no sign of improvement on the jobs front at home, more than four-in-ten (44%) say they followed news about the condition of the U.S. economy very closely last week. That’s little changed from recent weeks. Interest is comparable among different partisan groups, income levels and regions of the country.

About a third of the public (35%) says they very closely followed news about the debate in Washington over how best to create jobs and reduce the federal deficit. There is little difference among partisans in the numbers tracking this highly partisan fight (40% of Republicans, 36% of Democrats and 33% of independents say they followed this news very closely).

Two-in-ten (20%) say they followed news about execution of Davis, who had been convicted of killing an off-duty police officer. By this measure, too, African Americans are much more likely than the population as a whole to say they followed this news very closely (42%). Among whites, 17% say they followed this news very closely.

A quarter of the public (25%) says they followed news about the candidates for 2012 presidential elections very closely, a level of interest comparable to recent weeks; 9% say this was the news they followed most closely. A third of Republicans (35%) say they followed news about the candidates very closely. A quarter of Democrats (26%) and about one-in-five independents (19%) also say this. But nearly half (46%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party movement say they followed campaign news very closely.  Among all independents, about two-in-ten (19%) say this as well.

With much of the coverage focused on Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his performance in the most recent debate, news about the 2012 elections accounted for 11% of the newshole measured by PEJ.

Nearly two-in-ten (18%) say they very closely followed news about Iran’s release of two imprisoned American hikers; 7% say this was the story they followed most closely. The end of the long-running saga accounted for 3% of coverage.

The public showed limited interest in the debate at the United Nations over the status of the Palestinian territories; 17% say they followed this news very closely, while 5% say this was their top story of the week. Amid the international maneuvering that unfolded over the course of the week at the UN, the story accounted for 10% of coverage, nearly as much as the U.S. presidential campaign.

Many Heard About Satellite Hurtling to Earth

About three-in-ten Americans (31%) say they heard a lot last week about the defunct satellite that scientists expected to crash into the earth this past weekend. Another 40% say they heard a little about this. Nearly three-in-ten (28%) heard nothing at all about the satellite, which broke up and crashed into the South Pacific.

About as many (29%) say they heard a lot about the bankrupt solar panel company that received millions of dollars in loans approved by the Obama administration. Republicans are much more likely to have heard a lot about this story (42%) than are Democrats (20%). Three-in-ten independents (30%) heard a lot about this story. Among Republicans and GOP-leaners who agree with the Tea Party, 60% say they heard a lot about this story.

Perry’s criticism of the Obama administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also drew media attention last week. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they heard a lot about this, while 42% say they heard a little. About a third (35%) say they heard nothing at all about this. On this question, partisan differences are not significant.

About two-in-ten (21%) say they heard a lot about the latest moves by the Federal Reserve to help the economy. Another 44% say they heard a little about the
Fed moving to keep long-term interest rates low. About a third (34%) heard nothing at all. Partisans are about equally likely to have heard a lot about this story.

Nearly half (47%) say they heard nothing at all last week about the entertainment company Netflix announcing that it will divide into separate businesses for DVD rentals and streaming video. Two-in-ten (20%) say they heard a lot about this business story, while 32% say they heard a little.

Those younger than 50 are much more likely to have heard a lot about this news than those 50 and older (28% vs. 9%). The more affluent are also more likely than others to have heard a lot about the Netflix changes: 30% among those with family incomes of $50,000 or more say they heard a lot about this, compared with 14% among those with incomes of less than $50,000.

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 Sept. 19-25, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected Sept. 22-25 from a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults.