September 22, 2010

2010 Vote Seen as More Important Than Most

Partisans Differ in Views of Elections and Coverage

Summary of Findings

About two-thirds of the public sees coverage of this year’s elections as focused primarily on strategy and conflict rather than candidate positions, while a comparable percentage says the 2010 congressional elections are more important than most.

Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say news coverage of politics makes them angry. Still, few (36%) say election news makes them feel depressed. More than half (55%) say this year’s elections have been “pretty interesting”, according to the latest News Interest Index survey of 1,005 adults conducted Sept. 16-19 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Partisan differences in responses to these questions provide further evidence of greater engagement and enthusiasm among Republicans this year. For example, though the public is divided on whether they feel “burned out” about politics and elections (48% agree, 49% disagree), Democrats are much more likely to agree with this statement (54%) than are Republicans (40%).

While election news dominated media coverage last week, the public continued to show relatively modest interest. According to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, midterm news made up 30% of the newshole. Just more than one-in-ten (11%) say this was the news they followed most closely. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they followed election news very closely.

Three-in-ten Republicans say they followed election news very closely last week, not much different from the 24% of Democrats that say this. Two-in-ten independents (19%) say they followed election news very closely.

Republicans have recorded generally higher levels of interest than Democrats or independents during a primary season that included a number of intense fights between more mainstream members of their party and those more closely aligned with the Tea Party movement.

Republicans More Likely to See Election as Important, Interesting

Three-quarters of Republicans say this year’s elections are more important than most, higher than the 66% of Democrats and 58% of independents that concur.

But Republicans are also more likely to agree that news coverage of politics these days makes them angry. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say this (64%), compared with 53% of Democrats. Nearly six-in-ten independents (57%) agree.

Republicans also are more upbeat about their candidates’ chances in November. About seven-in-ten (71%) say they are optimistic that their candidates will win; 61% of Democrats say this, as do 54% of independents.

Just two-in-ten Republicans (21%) agree that it is too early to really pay attention to this year’s elections. Nearly four-in-ten Democrats (37%) say this, a possible indication that Democrats will more closely follow the general election campaigns. Independents mirror Democrats on this; 36% say it is too early to really pay attention.

Perhaps a reflection of Democratic enthusiasm in the presidential election of 2008, more than half of Democrats (54%) agree with the statement: “I follow presidential elections pretty closely, but not Senate and House elections.” Just more than a third of Republicans (35%) say this, a 19 point difference.

There is little difference between partisans in the percentages agreeing with several of the statements. For example, 70% of Democrats say news coverage emphasizes strategy and conflict more than the candidates’ policy positions; 63% of Republicans and 67% of independents agree.

Significant minorities among each group also agree that election news coverage can make them feel depressed; 36% of Democrats say this, as do 37% of independents and 31% of Republicans.

Tea Party Enthusiasm

Those who say the Tea Party best reflects their views right now are much more likely than others to see this year’s elections as important and interesting – and to say that news coverage of politics makes them angry. They also are the most optimistic about the prospects for their candidates.

According to findings from this survey released Sept. 20 as part of the weekly Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, about a third of Americans say the Democratic Party (32%) best reflects their views right now; 20% say the Republican Party does, while one-in-seven (15%) say the Tea Party does. (See Americans Even Disagree About Compromising)

Among those who say the Tea Party best reflects their views right now, 85% say these elections are more important than most. Among those who say the Republican Party or the Democratic Party best reflects their views, about two thirds say this (67% and 65%, respectively).

Close to eight-in-ten (78%) of those who say the Tea Party reflects their views are optimistic their candidates will win in November. That drops to 61% among those more aligned with Republicans and 62% among those more aligned with Democrats.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of those who say the Tea Party best reflects their views say news coverage of politics these days makes them angry. That drops to 60% among those who say they agree more with the Republican Party and 51% among those more aligned with Democrats.

Just 13% of those who say the Tea Party best reflects their views say it is too early to pay attention to the elections. About three-in-ten among those more aligned with Republicans (28%) or Democrats (34%) say this.

Republicans Interested in Elections Nationwide

Republicans are more likely than Democrats or independents to say they are watching the election landscape across the country, not just in their home districts.

Close to six-in-ten Republicans (56%) say they are interested in elections taking place across the country, while 38% say they are most interested in the elections they get to vote in. Democrats are more evenly divided: 47% say they are interested in elections around the country, while 46% say they are mostly interested in elections in which they can cast votes. Independents show a similar split: 39% are interested in what is happening in other elections, while 40% say they are mostly interested in local contests.

The Week’s News

While the elections dominated media coverage last week, the public continued to focus on news about the economy. Nearly four-in-ten (37%) say they followed news about the economy very closely.

About a quarter (26%) say they followed news about the economy more closely than other major stories. News about the economy accounted for 12% of the newshole measured by PEJ. That does not include 4% of coverage devoted to the debate over whether to extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts. The tax debate was the most closely followed story for 7%; about two-in-ten (21%) say they followed this story very closely.

While 11% say they followed news about the elections most closely, the same percentage say they followed news about the release of a jailed American hiker held in Iran that closely. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they followed election news very closely, while 16% say they followed news about the released hiker that closely. Her release accounted for 2% of coverage.

Another 4% say they followed news about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks most closely, while 13% say they followed this news very closely. The talks accounted for 1% of coverage.

And 4% say
they most closely followed the visit by Pope Benedict to Great Britain and his comments on the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal; 10% say they followed this news very closely. The pope’s visit accounted for 2% of coverage.

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 September 13-19, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected September 16-19, from a nationally representative sample of 1,005 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 Thursday through Sunday to gauge public interest in the most covered stories of the week.

Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a national sample of 1,005 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from September 16-19, 2010 (673 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 332 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 128 who had no landline telephone). Both the landline and cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English.

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin, region, and population density to parameters from the March 2009 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The sample is also weighted to match current patterns of telephone status based on extrapolations from the 2009 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size within the landline sample. 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 survey:

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.