Summary of Findings
Americans continued to track news about the new health care law more closely than any other major story last week, though the media devoted the most attention to the deadly explosion in a West Virginia coal mine—and just 3% of coverage to health care reform.
A third of the public (33%) says they followed news about health care reform most closely, while 24% say the mining accident was the story they followed more closely than any other, according to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted April 9-12 among 1,012 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. News about the accident, the search for survivors and mine safety problems made up 17% of coverage, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).
The new poll also finds that close to four-in-ten Americans (38%) say that press treatment of Tiger Woods has been too tough. About as many say treatment of Woods as he returned to tournament play has been fair (39%), while 14% say it has been too easy.
In contrast, press treatment of another prominent figure in the news – Pope Benedict XVI – is largely seen as fair. A plurality (44%) says coverage of the pope has been fair as the Catholic Church grapples with reports about its handling of sex abuse allegations against priests. About a quarter (24%) say it has been too easy and 10% say it has been too tough. About two-in-ten (21%) say recent coverage of President Obama has been too tough, while 29% say treatment has been too easy; 42% say it has been fair.
Differing Perceptions of Woods’ Treatment
Woods returned to professional golf at the Masters tournament last week after a four-month hiatus. About one-in-ten (9%) say they followed Woods’ return more closely than any other story last week, while the news accounted for 5% of coverage as measured by PEJ.
More than half of African Americans (55%) say press treatment of Woods has been too tough, compared with 36% of whites. More than four-in-ten women (43%) say they see coverage as too tough, compared with 33% of men. Among those who followed Woods’ return to the Masters very closely, about half (49%) see coverage as fair, while 40% say it has been too tough. Among those following less closely, the numbers are about equal: 37% fair, 38% too tough.
Attitudes about press treatment of Pope Benedict show much consistency across demographic groups. There are no significant differences between men and women or among age groups.
Views of the press treatment of Obama, on the other hand, are highly partisan. There also are significant differences by race.
Close to six-in-ten Republicans (57%) say media treatment of Obama has been too easy, compared with 10% of Democrats and 30% of independents. On the other hand, 31% of Democrats say treatment of the president has been too tough, compared with 9% of Republicans and 20% of independents.
More than half of Democrats (53%) see the treatment of Obama as fair, compared with 30% of Republicans and 41% of independents.
About half of African Americans see press treatment of Obama as too tough, compared with just 17% of whites. About a third of whites (34%) see coverage as too easy, much more than the 7% of African Americans that share this view. Similar numbers for each group see treatment as fair (42% among whites, 38% among blacks).
Most Heard About Justice Stevens’ Plans to Retire
About seven-in-ten Americans say they heard at least a little last week about the announcement that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens would retire at the end of the court’s current session; 28% say they heard a lot about this, while 40% heard a little.
Similar percentages of Republicans (31%), Democrats (25%) and independents (28%) say they heard a lot about Stevens’ plans. Coverage of the April 9 announcement made up 7% of the newshole as measured by PEJ.
About a quarter (26%) of Americans heard a lot about an incident involving a Qatari diplomat on a flight from Washington to Denver who apparently smoked a pipe in a rest room and then joked about setting his shoes on fire. Another 33% say they heard a little about this story, but four-in-ten (41%) say they heard nothing at all about it.
Just more than two-in-ten (22%) heard a lot about a new Nike ad in which Tiger Woods’ stares into the camera as a recording of his deceased father seems to address the famed golfer and whether he has learned anything from his mistakes. About three-in-ten (31%) say they heard a little about this, while 47% say they heard nothing at all.
Just 10% heard a lot about the controversy over Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declaring April as “Confederate History Month” with no initial mention of slavery. A quarter say they heard a little about this, but most (64%) say they heard nothing at all.
The Week’s Other News
In addition to news about the new health care law and the West Virginia mine explosion, Americans continued to closely track news about the nation’s the economy. Four-in-ten say they followed economic news very closely and 10% say this was the news they followed most closely. News about the economic crisis made up 8% of the newshole.
More than one-in-ten (13%) say they followed Woods’ return to play very closely, while 9% say this was the story they followed most closely. News about the golfer made up 5% of the newshole as measured by PEJ.
About a quarter of the public (24%) says they very closely followed news about a series of developments in Obama’s push to place greater controls on the world’s nuclear weapons; 7% say this was the story they followed most closely. News stories about U.S. nuclear policy account for 6% of the newshole.
About two-in-ten (21%) say they followed news about Afghanistan very closely, while 3% say this was the story they followed most closely. Reporting about Afghanistan made up 2% of coverage.
When Americans are asked to name what recent news story they have been talking about with friends, the answers largely mirror the News Interest Index list.
A quarter say they have been talking about health care reform, while about one-in-ten each say they have been talking about the West Virginia coal mine explosion (8%) or Tiger Woods’ return (8%).
Among other stories mentioned are the economy and jobs (5%), recent earthquakes (4%), and the crash of a plane that killed Poland’s president and other officials on route to Russia (3%).
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 int
ernet. 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.pewresearch.org/journalism.) 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, under the direction of Infogroup/ORC (Opinion Research Corporation). The sample is produced by ORC from data provided by Marketing Systems Group. Interviews are conducted in English. Data are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, region and population density to parameters from the March 2009 Census Bureau’s Current Population survey. 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 current survey, conducted April 9-12, 2010:
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.