August 21, 2008

Strong Advance Interest in Democratic Convention

Public Tunes into Georgia Conflict

Summary of Findings

The upcoming Democratic National Convention is generating much more public interest than did the party’s convention four years ago. Fully 59% of Americans say they are interested in following what happens at the Democratic convention, up from 36% in 2004. Nearly a third (31%) say they are very interested, while 28% say they are fairly interested in developments from Denver next week.

Roughly half of the public (48%) expresses interest in following this year’s Republican National Convention. This is comparable to interest in the 2004 GOP convention, but significantly higher than 2000, when the party first selected George W. Bush as its nominee.

Democrats are especially enthusiastic about their party’s convention next week. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (79%) say they are interested in following the convention. More than a third of Democrats (36%) say they plan to watch all or most of the television coverage of the convention, another 30% plan to watch some of it.

Most Democrats say they are very interested in hearing Barack Obama’s speech accepting the party’s nomination. However, those who favored Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination express only modest interest in Obama’s address: just 43% say they are very interested in hearing Obama’s acceptance speech while a larger percentage (56%) expresses strong interest in hearing Hillary Clinton’s address to the convention.

Interest in GOP Convention

Republicans are less intensely interested than Democrats in their party’s convention. Seven-in-ten Republicans are interested in following what happens in Minneapolis; 39% are very interested and 31% are fairly interested. One-in-five Republicans plan to watch all or most of the convention coverage on TV, while 44% say they will watch some of it.

Independents are more interested in the Democratic convention than they are in the Republican convention. About half of independents (52%) say they are interested in following what goes on in Denver next week (21% are very interested, 31% fairly interested). Only 40% say they are interested in following the events at the GOP convention in Minneapolis. Nearly six-in-ten independents (59%) say are not interested in following the GOP convention, while 48% express no interest in the Democratic convention.

Obama’s Speech Most Anticipated Convention Event

Among the various events that will take place at the Democratic convention next week, the public is most interested in watching Barack Obama’s acceptance speech: 33% say they are very interested in Obama’s speech, while 25% are fairly interested. Before the Democratic convention in 2004, 25% said they were very interested in hearing John Kerry’s acceptance speech. In 1992, an identical percentage (25%) expressed strong interest in Bill Clinton’s acceptance address.

Fully 58% of Democrats say they are very interested in Obama’s speech. Again, Democratic enthusiasm outweighs the feelings of the party faithful in 2004, when only 46% of Democrats were very interested in hearing Kerry’s speech.

Overall, 28% of Americans say they are very interested in the Democratic platform, which is comparable to the percentage expressing strong interest in the party’s platform in 2004 (31%). Interest in the Democratic platform was much greater in 1992, when nearly four-in-ten Americans (38%) said they were very interested in the party’s platform.

Dems Divided Over Convention Speeches

As many Americans say they are very interested in Clinton’s speech as in the Democratic platform (28%). While a solid majority of Clinton’s supporters (56%) say they are very interested in her address to the delegates, interest is more muted among those who supported Obama for the nomination; just 37% of Obama’s supporters say they are very interested in hearing Clinton’s speech.

By contrast, while 60% of Obama supporters are very interested in his speech, just 43% of Clinton supporters say the same.

Among the other events scheduled for next week in Denver, 23% of the public say they are very interested in watching the traditional roll call of the states as they cast ballots at the convention, and 20% are very interested in hearing Michelle Obama’s speech. Interest in Mrs. Obama’s speech is much higher than interest in Laura Bush’s convention speech in 2000. Just 10% said they were very interested in what Mrs. Bush had to say the year her husband first was nominated by his party.

Fewer Interested in McCain’s Speech

Fewer Americans are very interested in hearing McCain’s acceptance speech than Obama’s (24% vs. 33%). And there is far less advance interest in McCain’s speech among Republicans than there is interest in Obama’s speech among Democrats. Just 43% of Republicans say there are very interested in McCain’s speech, while 58% of Democrats are highly interested in Obama’s address.

Nonetheless, interest in McCain’s speech among the public is about as great as for Bush’s acceptance speech in 2000. Roughly a quarter of Americans (23%) also said they were very interested in Bush’s speech.

The public is about as interested in learning about the GOP Party platform as it is in hearing McCain’s speech: 23% are very interested in the party platform. Somewhat fewer (17%) are very interested in watching the roll call of the states as they cast their ballots.

Increased Interest in Georgia Conflict

The public was highly attentive this past week to the ongoing military conflict between Russia and the Republic of Georgia. More than a third (35%) say they followed this story very closely while another 35% say they followed it fairly closely.

Interest in the situation in Georgia increased significantly from the previous week when only 17% followed the story very closely. Higher public interest followed increased news coverage of the conflict. According to the News Coverage Index from Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism the conflict between Russia and Georgia was the most heavily covered story by the national media last week, accounting for 26% of all news. The conflict supplanted the 2008 presidential campaign as the most heavily covered story of the week, which marked the first time a non-campaign story has drawn greater coverage than the campaign since November 2007.

The crisis in Georgia is one of only a handful of recent overseas news stories that has attracted substantial public interest. This excludes stories in which the United States or U.S. citizens have played substantial roles, such as in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aside from the Georgia conflict, other closely followed foreign news events include the investigation of car bombs in London and Scotland in July 2007, the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, and the release of British sailors held by Iran in April 2007. Each of these events also was followed very closely by roughly a third of the public.

Campaign: McCain’s Visibility Ticks Up

The news media and the public’s attention were divided last week between the conflict in Georgia, the Beijing Olympics, and the presidential race. One-in-four Americans reported following the 2008 presidential campaign very closely, while the election fell to third on the list of top stories – just 15% said they followed the campaign more closely than any other major news story.

In terms of press coverage, Barack Obama, who was on vacation last week, still generated more campaign news coverage than John McCain (63% vs. 50%, according to the Campaign Coverage Index from Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism
). That said, last week was among the closest weeks between Obama and McCain in terms of campaign coverage since the general election began in earnest during early June.

In addition to narrowing the gap in coverage, John McCain also increased his public visibility last week relative to Barack Obama. While Obama was still by far the most visible candidate, John McCain narrowed that advantage somewhat: 62% of Americans now say that Obama is the candidate they have been hearing most about in the news, while 19% cite John McCain.

Olympics Top News Interest: Games Draw Large Female Audience

While the events in Georgia attracted considerable public attention and news coverage last week, it was the Beijing Olympics that was the public’s top story. One-third of all Americans cited the Olympics as the news story they had been following more closely than any other last week. Overall 35% said they were following the Games very closely, up from 24% the previous week. Compared with Summer Olympiads of the recent past, the Beijing Games are attracting slightly more attention than the 2004 Athens Summer Games and the 2000 Sydney competitions. Interest in Beijing last week did not match that of the Atlanta Games in 1996.

In most cases sporting events attract a larger male than female audience. Not so, when it comes to following the Summer Olympics. For the Beijing Games and the three preceding Summer Olympics, women have followed the events as closely as or more closely than men; while the Super Bowl, the World Series and the NCAA Basketball tournament attract a considerably larger male than female audience. In the current Pew poll, as many as 35% of women called the Olympics their top story, far outpacing interest in other news. Men’s news interest was divided between the Olympics and the conflict in Georgia (30% vs. 28%, respectively).

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 agenda. 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 from August 11-17 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected August 15-18 from a nationally representative sample of 1,001 adults.

In Other News…

Reports about the condition of the U.S. economy were the fourth biggest news item for the public last week. Four-in-ten Americans (39%) were following this news very closely and 13% said this was their top story for the week. The economy accounted for 3% of total news for the week of August 11-17.

Former presidential candidate John Edwards’ admission that he had an extramarital affair attracted the very close attention of just 13% of the public; just 2% said this was their most closely followed story. The media devoted 4% of the newshole to reporting on Edwards’ affair.

One-in-ten Americans followed news about political instability in Pakistan very closely and just 1% said it was the story they followed more closely than any other.

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 Sunday through Friday) PEJ will compile this data to identify the top stories for the week. The News Interest Index survey will collect data from Friday through Monday to gauge public interest in the most covered stories of the week.

Results for the weekly surveys are based on telephone interviews among a nationwide sample of approximately 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older, conducted under the direction of ORC (Opinion Research Corporation). For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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, and that results based on subgroups will have larger margins of error.

For more information about the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, go to www.journalism.org.