April 28, 2010

Economy, Volcanic Ash Top News Interest

Public Sees Some Payback of Federal Bailout Money

Summary of Findings

The public and the media focused on economic issues last week, with 24% of Americans saying they followed news about the economy more closely than other major stories.

Another 9% say they followed news about proposals for stricter regulation of banks and financial institutions most closely.

Americans also continued to closely track news about travel disruptions in Europe caused by ash from the erupting volcano in Iceland (20% most closely), according to the latest weekly News Interest Index survey conducted April 23-26 among 1,008 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

In terms of coverage, news about the economy in general made up 13% of the newshole last week, while debate in Washington about a financial regulatory overhaul made up 14%. Together, they accounted for 27% of the coverage examined by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), a separate project of the Pew Research Center. News about the volcano made up 11% of coverage.

Asked for their impressions of how much troubled banks and financial institutions have paid back of the billions of dollars provided by the federal government to help them survive the financial crisis, most Americans (57%) say those businesses have paid back “only some” of the money.

Fewer than two-in-ten (17%) say the banks have paid back most of the money, while 13% say they have paid back none. Just 2% say they have paid back all of it. There are no significant differences among partisans regarding perceptions of how much money the financial institutions have returned.

Perceptions of whether U.S. automakers have paid back the billions of dollars provided to them to survive the crisis are similar. Half of the public (50%) says the companies – General Motors and Chrysler – have paid back only some of the money, 18% say they have paid back most of it and 15% say they have paid back none. Another 7% say they have paid back all of it. Again there are no significant differences among partisans in the perceptions.

The Week’s Top News

About four-in-ten (42%) say they followed news about the economy very closely last week, much more than the 23% that said they were very closely following news about the impact of the volcano in Iceland. In addition, about a quarter (27%) say they very closely followed news about proposals for more strict regulation of banks and financial institutions.

While there was no significant difference among partisans in the percentages following news about the economy very closely, more Democrats (33%) than Republicans (21%) say they followed news about the financial regulatory proposals very closely. About three-in-ten independents (29%) also say this.

About two-in-ten (21%) say they followed news about the deadly explosion on an off-shore oil rig near the coast of Louisiana very closely; 12% say this was the story they followed most closely. News about the explosion made up 5% of coverage, according to PEJ.

A smaller percentage (14%) say they very closely followed reports about the Vatican’s handling of sex-abuse scandals within the Catholic Church; 6% say this was the story they followed most closely. Interest in the stories is similar to interest in late March, when 17% said they were following developments in this scandal very closely. The stories made up 1% of coverage last week.

Two-in-ten say they very closely followed news about this year’s congressional elections; 5% say this was the news they followed most closely. News about the 2010 mid-term elections made up 3% of the newshole.

Many Heard About Goldman Sachs Lawsuit

About seven-in-ten Americans say they heard at least a little last week about the new Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit alleging fraud against financial giant Goldman Sachs. A third says they heard a lot about this story, while 35% say they heard a little. Three-in-ten (31%) say they heard nothing at all about this.

Among those with family incomes of $75,000 or more, 52% say they heard a lot about the Goldman Sachs story, compared with 19% in households with incomes of less than $30,000. About three-in-ten (31%) of those with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999 say they heard a lot about this Wall Street story that became part of the debate over financial regulatory reform in Washington.

Most heard at least a little about the suspension of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger amid allegations of sexual misconduct. About a quarter (24%) say they heard a lot about this story, while 32% say they heard a little. Still, 44% say they heard nothing at all. Many more men say they heard a lot about this story than women (30% vs. 18%). And women were more likely to say they had heard nothing at all about this (52% vs. 35%).

About two-thirds of Americans say they heard at least a little about the Food and Drug Administration encouraging food companies to reduce the amounts of salt in processed foods. Two-in-ten heard a lot about this story, while 48% say they heard a little; 33% heard nothing at all.

About two-in-ten (19%) say they heard a lot about potential Supreme Court nominees to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens; 43% say they heard a little about this while 38% say they 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 April 19-25, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected April 23-26, from a nationally representative sample of 1,008 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 the weekly surveys are based on landline telephone interviews among a nationwide sample of approximately 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older, under the direction of Infogroup/ORC (Opinion Research Corporation). The sample is produced by ORC from data provided by Marketing Systems Group. Interviews are conducted in English. Data are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, region and population density to parameters from the March 2009 Census Bureau’s Current Population survey. 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 current survey, conducted April 23-26, 2010:

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.