Summary of Findings
Oprah Winfrey’s well-publicized appearances with Barack Obama have raised Obama’s visibility, especially among African Americans. Roughly a quarter of Americans (26%) say they have heard more about Obama recently than any other presidential candidate, up from just 10% in November. Meanwhile, though Hillary Clinton remains the most visible candidate overall, the proportion citing her as the candidate they have heard the most about fell from a high of 61% in November to 41% in the current poll.
Far more African Americans cite Obama (51%) than Clinton (27%) as the candidate they have heard the most about recently. In November, these figures were roughly the reverse, with 50% naming Clinton and 15% Obama. Whites were also more likely to name Obama this month compared with last month, but the increase was not as great (23% this month up from 9% in November).
Oprah and Obama
Obama’s increased visibility is no doubt linked to his campaign appearances with Winfrey. Fully 74% of the public could correctly identify Obama as the candidate Oprah had endorsed. Awareness of Winfrey’s support for Obama was equally high across parties, genders and racial groups.
Most Americans view Winfrey’s support for Obama as a plus for his campaign. Six-in-ten say her support will help his candidacy, only 1% thinks it will hurt his candidacy, and 31% say it will not make any difference. The same percentage said Winfrey’s endorsement would help Obama in a September poll. Democrats, Republicans and Independents are all in agreement that Oprah’s support for Obama will help not hurt his candidacy (64% of Democrats, 63% of Republicans, and 61% of Independents say it will help).
Romney, Religion and the Republicans
The leading Republican candidates continue to lag behind Obama and Clinton in public visibility. Mitt Romney was named by just 5% as the candidate they heard the most about, despite Romney’s highly anticipated speech about religion and politics on Dec. 6. Similarly, while Mike Huckabee has surged in the polls, just 5% name him as the candidate they have heard the most about. While both men are far less visible than the leading Democrats, this is an improvement for both Romney and Huckabee over November when just 1% named them as the most visible candidates.
As in the past, even Republicans are more likely to name Democratic candidates than GOP candidates when asked who they have been hearing the most about in the news. More than half of Republicans (56%) named a Democratic candidate while just 28% named a Republican candidate. The gap was even greater in November when more than three times as many Republicans pointed to a Democratic candidate rather than a GOP candidate as most visible (70% vs. 19%). In the current survey, 9% of Republicans name Romney as the most prominent candidate in the news, 8% mention Huckabee, while 7% cite Rudy Giuliani.
Most Americans say they heard either a lot (31%) or a little (31%) about Romney’s speech about his faith and politics; 37% heard nothing at all about the speech. Romney receives mixed reviews on the speech from those who had heard a least a little about it. Nearly half (49%) who heard about the speech said Romney did an excellent or good job addressing the concerns some voters may have about his Mormon faith. Four-in-ten (39%) said he did only a fair or poor job. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents had a generally positive view of the speech; 60% thought Romney did an excellent or good job addressing voters’ concerns about his faith, compared with 28% who thought he did a fair or poor job.
White Republican evangelical Protestants, as well as non-evangelicals, had positive reactions to Romney’s speech. Majorities in both groups said Romney did an excellent or good job in addressing his faith; the differences in these views are not statistically significant.
Romney’s speech, along with news of Huckabee’s strength in the polls, were two of the dominant themes in campaign press coverage last week. Stories focusing mainly on the Republican candidates made up 46% of the campaign newshole, while stories focusing on the Democrats made up 36% of the newshole (15% of the stories focused equally on Republican and Democratic candidates).1
The news of Huckabee’s surge reached a large percentage of the public. Among Republicans, 54% were able to identify Huckabee as the GOP candidate who has been moving up in the polls recently. Four-in-ten Democrats (39%) knew Huckabee had improved his standing, as did 45% of independents.
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 December 2-7 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week was collected December 7-10 from a nationally representative sample of 1,018 adults.
Omaha Shooting and Campaign Dominate News Interest
The deadly shooting spree at a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska was the most closely followed news story last week. Three-in-ten followed the shooting very closely and 26% listed this as the single news story they followed more closely than any other. The national news media devoted 7% of its overall coverage to this story — making it the third most heavily covered news story of the week. The shooting received the most coverage from online news outlets and network TV news.
The campaign was also a top news story last week. Roughly a quarter of the public (24%) followed campaign news very closely and 22% listed this as their most closely followed story of the week.
The Iraq war, which has been the public’s most closely followed news story throughout much of the year, has nearly fallen off the media’s radar screen. Last week, the national media devoted 2% of its overall coverage to events in Iraq making it the ninth most heavily covered news story of the week. The previous week the war received 3% of the national news coverage, placing it eighth overall. In spite of reduced coverage, the public is still following events in Iraq fairly closely, illustrating the continuing importance the public places on the story. Last week, 28% of Americans paid very close attention to news about the current situation and events in Iraq and 13% listed this as their most closely followed news story.
A quarter of the public paid very close attention to an intelligence report stating that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, 7% listed this as their top story. The media focused heavily on the report and reactions to it — devoting 11% of the national newshole to this story.
In overseas news, 15% of the public followed the recent Venezuelan referendum vote very closely; 4% listed this as their top story of the week.
Also in the news last week, the Bush administration announced a plan intended to protect some homeowners from foreclosure. The proposal would freeze interest rates for the next five years on certain adjustable rate mortgages. Most Americans (70%) heard either a lot (31%) or a little (39%) about this proposal; 29% heard nothing at all about the plan.
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.journalism.org.