October 20, 2010

Miners’ Rescue Dominates News Interest

Jump in Attention to Midterm Election News

Summary of Findings

The dramatic rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months dominated the public’s news interest last week, while the media focused on both the miners’ saga and the midterm Congressional elections.

With the Nov. 2 elections fast approaching, the percent of the public tracking election news very closely jumped to 33% from 23% one week earlier.

According to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted Oct. 14-17 among 1,002 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Republicans continue to follow election news more closely than Democrats or independents. Currently, close to half of Republicans (47%) say they are following this news very closely, compared with 32% of Democrats and 26% of independents. The week of Oct. 7-10, 31% of Republicans said they were following news about the midterms very closely, compared with 21% of Democrats and 20% of independents.

While the public appears increasingly attentive to election news, four-in-ten say they followed news about the rescue of the miners – heavily covered and broadcast live on television – more closely than any other news last week. Nearly two-in-ten (19%) say they followed news about the economy most closely; 15% say they followed news about the elections most closely.

For its part, the media devoted 28% of coverage to the midterm elections and 21% of newshole to the drama that unfolded in Chile, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). Roughly 12% of coverage focused on the still-struggling economy – about 8% on the economy in general and 4% on the foreclosure issues causing new problems for the housing market.

About half of the public (49%) says they followed news about the rescue of the Chilean miners very closely. That’s greater than the 33% that said they very closely followed news about a deadly explosion in a West Virginia coal mine this April and comparable to the 47% that said they followed news that closely about the deaths of 12 miners in a West Virginia mine in January 2006.

Women generally paid closer attention to the developments in Chile than men: 55% say they followed this news very closely, compared with 42% of men.

More than four-in-ten (42%) say they followed news about the economy very closely, while 19% say this was the story they followed most closely. About a quarter (26%) say they followed news about foreclosure problems very closely, while 6% say this was the news they followed most closely.

A third (33%) say they followed news about the midterm elections very closely, 15% say this was the news they followed most closely. Nearly four-in-ten men (38%) say they followed election news very closely, compared with 28% of women.

About two-in-ten of the public (19%) say they followed news about Obama administration plans to lift the ban on deep-water oil and gas exploration put in place after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The story accounted for 3% of coverage; 5% say this was the news they followed most closely.

Two-in-ten (20%) say they very closely followed news about a federal judge’s decision to block enforcement of the government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy concerning gays in the military. This news accounted for 3% of coverage and 3% say this was the news they followed most closely.

While young people generally say they are following key news stories less closely than older people, that is not the case with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” story. More than two-in-ten (22%) of those ages 18-29 say they followed this news very closely, compared with 17% of those age 30-49, 19% of those age 50-64 and 24% of those 65 and older.

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 October 11-17, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected October 14-17, from a nationally representative sample of 1,002 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 1,002 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from October 14-17, 2010 (671 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 331 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 157 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: “Miners’ Rescue Dominates News Interest.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 20, 2010) http://www.people-press.org/2010/10/20/miners-rescue-dominates-news-interest/, accessed on July 23, 2014.