September 17, 2012

Middle East Turmoil Closely Followed; Romney’s Comments Viewed Negatively

Overview

About four-in-ten Americans (43%) have followed news about the attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East and the killing of an American ambassador very closely, making it by far the most closely followed foreign news story of the year.

Those who have followed this story have much more positive opinions about Barack Obama’s handling of the situation than Mitt Romney’s comments on the crisis. Nearly half (45%) approve of Obama’s handling of the recent attacks on U.S. embassies and the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Libya; 36% disapprove of Obama’s handling of this situation.

In contrast, only about a quarter (26%) of those who have tracked news on turmoil in the Middle East approve of Romney’s comments on the situation; nearly half (48%) disapprove.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 13-16 among 1,001 adults, finds that public interest in the presidential campaign has increased sharply in the past week. Currently, 42% say they are following news about the presidential candidates very closely, up from 31% a week earlier, immediately after the party conventions.

As many followed the recent spate of attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East and the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens very closely (43%) as tracked campaign news very closely (42%). News interest in events in the Middle East is as high today as it was in the early days of the “Arab spring” last year, or when the U.S. and its allies launched air strikes on Libya in April 2011. (For more, see “Interest in Foreign News Declines,” June 6, 2012.)

Across most demographic groups, far more of those who followed news about the embassy attacks approve of Obama’s handling of the situation than approve of Romney’s statements on the crisis. And while 75% of Democrats approve of Obama’s handling of Middle East turmoil, fewer Republicans (58%) approve of Romney’s comments on the situation.

Nearly identical percentages of those who have followed the situation very closely and those have followed it less closely approve of Obama’s handling of the situation (46% and 44%, respectively). However, disapproval of Obama’s performance is much higher among those who have followed Mideast turmoil very closely (43%) than those who have followed it less closely (29%).

Romney gets higher marks among those who have followed Middle East events very closely than among those who followed them less closely. Even among this group, however, more disapprove (49%) than approve (34%) of his comments on the situation.

There are only modest partisan differences in attentiveness to the recent attacks on the embassies and the killing of the U.S. ambassador: 48% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats and 45% of independents have followed this story very closely.