Summary of Findings
The 2008 presidential campaign remained a top tier news story last week both in terms of coverage and public interest. The campaign has been one of the top five most covered news stories for much of the year, and public interest has remained fairly consistent. This past week, the national news media devoted 9% of its overall coverage to the campaign, making it the second most heavily covered story of the week, after the Iraq policy debate. Among the public, 16% followed campaign news very closely and 10% listed this as their most closely followed story.
Democratic candidates continue to have a clear advantage over Republican candidates in terms of visibility. When asked which candidates they have been hearing the most about in the news recently, 67% of the public named a Democrat while only 8% named a Republican. Even Republicans themselves name Democratic candidates more readily than GOP candidates by a better than two-to-one margin (54% name a Democratic candidate, 21% name a GOP candidate).
Hillary Clinton leads the pack as the candidate Americans have heard the most about in the news lately. More than four-in-ten (42%) name Clinton, while 22% name Barack Obama. Only 2% name John Edwards. The gap between Clinton and Obama has widened since last month when Clinton was named by 32% of the public and Obama by 20%.
The major Republican presidential candidates remain at the periphery: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson were each named by only 2% of the public. In spite of the public’s lopsided perceptions of which party’s candidates have been in the news lately, coverage of the candidates has been fairly balanced. For the month of June, 43% of the campaign coverage on national news outlets focused on Democratic candidates, 34% focused on Republicans (another 9% focused on both parties).
Not only are Republican candidates lagging behind in terms of visibility, GOP loyalists are less engaged in the campaign and more critical of campaign coverage. Throughout the year, Democrats have consistently paid closer attention than Republicans to campaign news. In addition, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe the presidential campaign is being over-covered by the media. Four-in-ten Republicans say news organizations are giving too much coverage to the campaign. Only 19% of Democrats feel the same way. Among Democrats, a majority (56%) say news organizations are giving the right amount of coverage to the campaign, and one-in-five say they are giving it too little coverage. Independents are closer to Republicans in their views about campaign coverage — 37% say the campaign is receiving too much coverage, 21% say it’s getting too little coverage, and 34% say the coverage has been about right.
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 was collected from July 15-20 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week was collected July 20-23 from a nationally representative sample of 1,040 adults.
Iraq and New York City Blast Top News Interest Index
In the news this week, the national media continued to focus heavily on the debate over future Iraq war policy. This was the top news story in terms of coverage taking up 14% of the overall newshole. Fueling much of the coverage was the all-night Senate session where members of both parties debated exit strategies for the war. The public remained more interested in the situation in Iraq than the policy debate — 28% of Americans followed events in Iraq very closely and 22% listed this as the single news story they followed more closely than any other. By contrast, 23% of the public paid very close attention to the Iraq policy debate and 8% listed this as their most closely followed story.
The dramatic explosion caused by an underground steam pipe in New York City generated a significant amount of public interest. Roughly one-in-five Americans followed news about the blast very closely and 11% listed this as their most closely followed story. The media devoted 3% of its overall coverage to the explosion. Interest was much higher in the Northeast than in other parts of the country (30% of those living in the Northeast followed the story very closely).
The Brazilian plane crash that killed nearly 200 people received about the same amount of news coverage as the Manhattan explosion (3% of the newshole) but generated less public interest. Only 13% of the public followed news about the plane crash very closely and 9% listed it as their most closely followed story.
News about the resurgence of Al Qaeda was a top story for the second week in row. Overall 6% of the national newshole was devoted to stories about Al Qaeda and the continued threat it poses to the American homeland. More than a quarter of the public paid very close attention to this story and 9% said it was the story they followed most closely.
The public was generally satisfied with the amount of coverage the media devoted to the week’s major stories. A plurality of the public said each of the major news stories had received the right amount of coverage from news organizations. Nonetheless, nearly three-in-ten Americans (29%) believe reports about Al Qaeda gaining strength have received too little coverage, and 28% say the same about events in Iraq.
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.pewresearch.org/journalism.