Summary of Findings
Americans continue to closely track news about the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and the U.S. economy, paying less close attention to the fast-evolving story about serious safety problems with Toyota automobiles. Still, the public is quite laudatory of press coverage of the automaker’s problems.
More than four-in-ten say they followed news last week about the U.S. economy (43%) or the earthquake (42%) very closely. Just fewer than four-in-ten (38%) say they followed news about the earthquake aftermath more closely than any other major news story, while 26% say they followed news about the condition of the economy most closely.
By contrast, just about two-in-ten (21%) say they followed news about problems with sudden acceleration and braking in Toyota cars and trucks very closely. One-in-ten say this was the story they followed most closely last week, according to the latest News Interest Index survey, conducted Feb. 5-8 among 1,015 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Americans Give Positive Ratings to Press Coverage of Toyota Recall
Americans generally see the press doing a good job covering the problems with Toyota vehicles. Close to six-in-ten rate the media’s performance as excellent (14%) or good (44%). About a quarter (26%) see it as only fair, while 10% rate the job done by the press as poor.
The public is much more critical of Toyota and the U.S. government handling of the crisis. More than half rate the federal government’s job in addressing these problems as only fair (37%) or poor (19%). About a quarter (23%) rate the government’s performance as good; 5% say it has been excellent.
More than half are critical of Toyota: 33% assess the carmaker’s job of addressing the problems as only fair and 19% say Toyota’s performance has been poor. About a third (33%) say the company’s performance has been good – 10 points more than say the same about the U.S. government’s response – while 8% rate the company’s response to the problems as excellent.
Among partisans, few see the government’s response to the Toyota safety issues as excellent (4% each of Democrats, Republicans and independents). More than a quarter of Republicans (27%) say the government’s response has been poor, compared with 11% of Democrats; 22% of independents say the same.
Views of press coverage are more uniform. Majorities among each group (56% of Republicans, 57% of Democrats and 59% of independents) say the media has done an excellent or good job in covering the problems troubling Toyota vehicles.
One Month Out, Earthquake Aftermath Still Holds Public’s Interest
News from earthquake-ravaged Haiti – including stories last week about 10 American missionaries jailed after trying to leave the country with 33 orphans – continued to attract the public’s interest. More than four-in-ten women (44%) say they followed news about the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake more closely than any other story last week, compared with 31% of men. An equal share of men (31%) say they followed news about the U.S. economy most closely, compared with 21% of women. Democrats also tended to follow this news more closely (47% most closely) than Republicans (34%) or independents (33%).
The percentage of Americans who say they followed news about Sunday’s Super Bowl more closely than any other story (8%) was comparable to the percentage that followed news about Toyota’s troubles most closely (10%). About a quarter (27%) say they followed news about the match-up between the victorious New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts – very closely. That’s about the same as the 26% that said they very closely followed the Colts’ Super Bowl win in 2007 over the Chicago Bears. This year, a third of men (33%) say they followed the Super Bowl very closely, compared with 21% of women.
Americans showed limited interest in news about military leaders saying they support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the nation’s armed forces, a change from the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Just 4% say this was the news they followed most closely last week. About two-in-ten (19%) say they followed this news very closely. In early 1993, when then-President Bill Clinton sought to lift the ban on gays in the military, the debate drew much greater interest: 45% said they were following the news very closely.
The National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tenn., also attracted limited interest: 10% say they followed this news very closely, while 3% say this was the news they followed more closely than any other. Fewer than two-in-ten Republicans (16%) say they followed this news very closely, compared with 4% of Democrats. Among independents, 13% say they very closely followed the convention.
According to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the media devoted the most newshole last week to the economy. Reporting on the nation’s troubled economy, including stories about the impact of President Obama’s proposed budget, made up 21% of coverage. Reporting on the Toyota recalls accounted for 11% of the newshole, while developments in Haiti made up another 8%. Stories about potential changes to the nation’s policies on gays and lesbians in the military made up 4%, while the Super Bowl accounted for 3% of the newshole. The Tea Party convention made up just 1% of the coverage examined.
Economic News Seen as Mixed, though More See as Mostly Bad
About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the economy, not much different from the 65% that said the same in early January. However, 35% say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy, up from 29% the week of Jan. 8-11. Just 4% say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy, about the same as the 5% that said this last month.
The gap in negative partisan perceptions of economic news has widened since early January, as perceptions have become increasingly negative among Republicans: 46% of Republicans now say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy, compared with 24% of Democrats and 36% of independents. Last month, 37% of Republicans said they were hearing mostly bad economic news, compared with 24% of Democrats. At that point, 30% of independents said they were hearing mostly negative economic news. In the current survey, 69% of Democrats, 60% of independents and 52% of Republicans say they are hearing a mix of good and bad economic news.
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 from Feb. 1-7, 2010, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected Feb. 5-8, 2010, from a nationally representative sample of 1,015 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. The News Interest Index survey collects 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 landline 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 4 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.