September 29, 2010

Elections Dominate Coverage, Not Public Interest

Few Have Heard a Lot about GOP's

Summary of Findings

While the 2010 midterm congressional elections dominated media coverage last week, the public focused more on news about the nation’s struggling economy.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of the public says they followed news about the economy more closely than any other major story. Just 6% say they followed news about this year’s congressional elections most closely, according to the latest News Interest Index survey of 1,010 adults conducted Sept. 23-26 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The midterm election campaign accounted for 25% of news coverage, almost double the 13% given to news about the economy, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).

More than four-in-ten Americans (43%) say they followed economic news very closely, compared with 25% who tracked campaign news very closely. About as many Democrats (26%) as Republicans (30%) say they are following campaign news very closely; 22% of independents say the same.

Many Aware of Possible GOP Majority; Pledge Less Widely Known

Most Americans say they have heard at least a little about the possibility that Republicans will win a majority of seats in Congress on Nov. 2. About four-in-ten (42%) say they have heard a lot about this, while 35% say they have heard a little.

Slightly fewer people (36%) say they have heard a lot about victories by candidates associated with the Tea Party movement in recent Republican primaries; another 36% say they heard a little about victories by Tea Party-affiliated candidates.

Fewer say they have heard a lot about the House candidates in their districts (24%), while 45% say they have heard a little about this.

Just 18% say they have heard a lot about the legislative blueprint unveiled by House GOP leaders, called “A Pledge to America.” Close to four-in-ten (38%) say they heard a little about this, while 42% say they heard nothing at all.

Still fewer (13%) say they have heard a lot about the Washington rallies planned by Comedy Central hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. A third (33%) say they heard a little about the rallies, while just more than half (54%) say they heard nothing at all.

Modest Partisan Differences in Awareness of Campaign Events

Republicans are more likely to say they have heard a lot about the possibility that the GOP could win a majority in Congress (51%) than are Democrats or independents (both 41%). On other questions, though, the differences are slim or not significant.

More than four-in-ten Republicans (43%) say they have heard a lot about the recent Tea Party candidate victories in GOP primaries, not much different from the 34% of both Democrats and independents that say this.

Nearly a quarter of Republicans (23%) say they heard a lot about the GOP “Pledge to America” announced late last week, while 20% of independents and 15% of Democrats say they heard a lot about this.

Three-in-ten Republicans (30%) say they have heard a lot about the candidates for the U.S. House in their districts, about the same as the 27% of Democrats that say this.

Few in any group say they have heard a lot about the Washington rallies planned by Comedy Central stars Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; 16% of Democrats, 12% of independents and 11% of Republicans say they have heard a lot about this.

In general, older Americans are much more likely to have heard a lot about these developments than those under 30 – except for the rally by Stewart and Colbert. For example, nearly six-in-ten (59%) of those 65 and older say they have heard a lot about the possibility that the GOP could win a majority in Congress, while 18% of those 18-29 say they have heard a lot about this. On the other hand, 14% of those 18 to 29 have heard a lot about the Oct. 30 rallies, about the same as the older age groups.

The Week’s News

While news about the economy topped the News Interest Index (23% most closely), nearly as many (18%) say they tracked news about portions of the federal health care law taking effect more closely than other major news. Almost four-in-ten (37%) say they followed this news very closely. Reporting about the new law made up 3% of the newshole as measured by PEJ.

Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to say they followed news about the new health care law very closely (36% each), but women are more likely than men to say they followed this news very closely (40% vs. 33%).

More than one-in-ten (13%) say they followed news about the situation in Afghanistan most closely, while 29% say they followed news about the situation there very closely. News about Afghanistan made up 3% of coverage. News about Bob Woodward’s new book, which delves into how the Obama administration arrived at its Afghanistan strategy, accounted for a separate 3%, according to PEJ.

Fewer than one-in-ten (6%) say they followed the debate in Congress over the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy concerning gays in the military most closely, while 24% say they followed this debate very closely. News about the policy made up 4% of coverage.

Another 5% say they followed news about drug violence in Mexico most closely, while 20% say they followed this news very closely. News about the situation in Mexico made up 1% 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 20-26, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected September 23-26, from a nationally representative sample of 1,010 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 1,010 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from September 23-26, 2010 (675 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 335 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 148 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.

Cite this publication: “Elections Dominate Coverage, Not Public Interest.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (September 29, 2010) http://www.people-press.org/2010/09/29/elections-dominate-coverage-not-public-interest/, accessed on July 22, 2014.