Summary of Findings
As he has since January, this week, Barack Obama enjoyed much more visibility as far as the public was concerned than did John McCain. By a margin of 76% to 11% respondents in Pew’s weekly News Interest Index survey named Obama over McCain as the candidate they have heard the most about in recent days. But the same poll also shows that the Democratic candidate’s media dominance may not be working in his favor. Close to half (48%) of Pew’s interviewees went on to say that they have been hearing too much about Obama lately. And by a slight, but statistically significant margin – 22% to 16% – people say that recently they have a less rather than more favorable view of the putative Democratic nominee.
In contrast, if anything, Pew’s respondents said they want to hear more, not less about the Republican candidate. Just 26% in the poll said they had heard too much about McCain, while a larger number (38%) reported that they had heard too little about the putative Republican candidate. However, as for Obama, a slight plurality reports that recently they have come to have a less favorable view of McCain rather than a more favorable view of him – (23% to 18%).
Not surprisingly, a very large number of Republicans say they have heard too much about Obama lately. But 51% of independents shared this opinion, and as many as a third of Democrats thought so too.
While Obama has dominated McCain as the candidate citizens say they have heard the most about in the news, roughly equal numbers say that they are aware of commercials on behalf of each candidate. About six-in-ten have seen commercials for both candidates. Most of those who are aware of Obama’s commercials say they are mostly positive messages about the candidate (38%), while fewer (13%) characterize them as negative messages about McCain. The balance of opinion about McCain’s commercials is the opposite – a plurality (31%) sees them as negative messages about his opponent, with fewer (19%) describing them as positive ads.
There is surprising partisan agreement about the campaign commercials of both candidates. On balance, both Republicans and Democrats think Obama’s commercials have been mostly positive. And pluralities of both Republicans and Democrats say McCain’s ads are mostly negative. Nonetheless Democrats are more likely than others to say Obama’s commercials are positive, and Republicans are less likely to characterize McCain’s ads as negative.
When asked about specific commercials, those tested for each candidate registered about similar recall levels – 41% of Pew’s respondents said they have seen McCain’s commercial that compares Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Almost the same number – (43%) report seeing Barack Obama’s commercial where he talks about his background growing up in Kansas.
Economic and Campaign News Capture Most Attention
Public interest in news about economic conditions remained high last week amid reports about federal legislation to uplift the housing market and official projections of a half-trillion-dollar national budget deficit. About half of all Americans (47%) paid very close attention to news about the state of the U.S. economy and another 34% were following this news fairly closely. Three-in-ten (30%) said it was the news they followed most closely for the week, making the economy the public’s top story. Actual news coverage of the economy was the second most heavily covered story last week. The national news media devoted 5% of all coverage to the topic.
For the third straight week, the audience for campaign news totaled three-in-ten Americans who were following the presidential race very closely. While not the most closely followed news item of the week, the campaign was the public’s number two story, with 27% of Americans citing the campaign as the story they were following more closely than any other. A far greater share of the national newshole was devoted to the presidential campaign last week than to any other major news story. More than one-quarter of all news (26%) focused on the campaign.
Roughly one-in-four Americans (27%) followed news about the Iraq war very closely and 11% listed this as their most closely followed story for the week. News about an earthquake that struck the Los Angeles area attracted the very close attention of 17% of the public. Predictably, residents of the West Coast followed the story more closely than residents of other regions of the country. The earthquake, which caused little damage last week, received 2% of all news coverage.
So far this summer, there is a relatively small American audience for news about the upcoming Olympic games in Beijing, China. Just 13% followed news about Olympic preparations very closely last week. Interest in the Chinese games remains unchanged from the previous week (12%). The media, for its part, devoted 3% of all news to the upcoming Olympics.
Overall, the press devoted 4% of coverage to the indictment of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens for making false statements about his personal finances. However few in the public followed the story closely. Just 9% followed news about Sen. Stevens very closely and even fewer (2%) called it their most closely followed story of the week.
For the first time this year, John McCain attracted nearly as much media attention as his Democratic rival, Barack Obama. For the week of July 28-Aug. 3, Barack Obama was a featured candidate in 81% of all campaign stories and John McCain was a featured candidate in a comparable 78% of all campaign reporting, according to the Campaign Coverage Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
While John McCain may have closed the gap in campaign news coverage, equaling the attention garnered by his opponent, Barack Obama remains the far more visible candidate in the eyes of the public. When asked which presidential candidate they have heard the most about in the news over the last week or so, 76% of the public names Barack Obama while just one-in-ten (11%) recalls John McCain. As many Republicans (76%) as Democrats (80%) cite Obama as the candidate they have heard most about in the news recently.
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 were collected from July 28 – August 3 and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected August 1-4 from a nationally representative sample of 1,004 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 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.