Summary of Findings
In the days following BP’s latest—and apparently successful—effort to seal the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, public perceptions of news about the spill have become somewhat more positive. Only a quarter of Americans (25%) say they are hearing mostly good news about the oil spill, but that is more than double the percentage expressing this view two weeks ago (11%).
The latest weekly News Interest Index survey conducted August 5-8 among 1,002 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, finds that about half of the public (47%) says they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the oil spill in the Gulf, while 25% say they are hearing mostly bad news. The percentage saying they are hearing mixed news has fallen since late July (from 59%), while the proportion hearing mostly bad news has edged upward (from 18%).
The Gulf coast oil leak continues to be the public’s most closely followed story, but interest has declined from last week. About four-in-ten (42%) say they followed the story very closely, down from 57% a week ago.
Nevertheless, the Gulf oil leak was once again the public’s top news story: 42% say it is the story they followed most closely this week; news about the economy was a distant second, cited by just 16%.
News coverage about the leak also has dropped off in recent weeks. The leak accounted for 11% of this week’s newshole according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). By comparison, the story dominated news coverage throughout June—constituting 44% of the newshole at its peak, the week ending June 20th.
Views of Economic News Little Changed
In contrast to views of news about the oil spill, the public’s perceptions of economic news have not changed and remain far more negative than positive. Currently, 55%say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about t he economy, while 38% say the economic news they are hearing is mostly bad and just 4% say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy.
That is little changed from early July, when 54% said they were hearing mixed news, and 42% said they were hearing mostly bad news. In June, however, just 30% said they were hearing mostly bad news and 65% said the news was a mix of good and bad.
As has been the case throughout the year, Republican perceptions of economic news are more negative than Democratic perceptions. Half of Republicans (50%) say they are hearing mostly negative news. Just 27% of Democrats and 37% of independents say this.
Those who say they are following economic news very closely have similar impressions of the tenor of economic news as those who are following news about the economy less closely.
The Week’s News
Although the level of public interest in the oil leak is lower than it was earlier in the summer, the story continues to top the list of stories the public is following. Similarly, although the news media is no longer devoting as much coverage to the leak as in the past, it remains one of the top two stories covered by the press.
News about the economy rivaled the oil leak in the amount of coverage this week, accounting for 12% of the newshole, and public interest in economic news remains high. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) say they are following economic news very closely; 16% say it is the news they followed most closely.
As the scheduled end of the combat mission in Iraq approaches at the end of this month, about a quarter (23%) say they followed news about the situation in Iraq very closely, while just 8% say this is the story they followed most closely. The public’s attention to news about Iraq has not shifted much over the last year. According to PEJ, Iraq filled just 3% of this week’s newshole.
A federal judge’s ruling that California’s ban on same sex-marriage is unconstitutional garnered 5% of news coverage this week, with 21% of the public reporting that they are following this story very closely and 7% naming it their top story. Both Republicans (27%) and Democrats (25%) were more likely than independents (17%) to say they followed news about the Proposition 8 ruling very closely.
About one-in-five (19%) say they followed news about the planned mosque and Islamic cultural center near the site of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan very closely, with 5% saying it was the story they followed most closely. News about the planned mosque, which accounted for just 2% of the newshole, was followed more closely by Republicans (27% very closely) than Democrats (16% very closely); 19% of independents say they followed the story very closely.
Just 15% say they followed the Senate’s confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court very closely—about the same percentage (16%) who said they followed her confirmation hearings in July. Only 3% of press coverage was focused on Kagan. The confirmations of both Sonia Sotomayor last year and John Roberts in 2005 were more closely followed by the public (22% and 28%, respectively, said they followed those confirmations very closely).
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 August 2-8, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected August 5-8, from a nationally representative sample of 1,002 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. (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 this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a national sample of 1,002 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from August 5-8, 2010 (671 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 331 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 131 who had no landline telephone). Both the landline and cell phone samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English.
The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin, region, and population density to parameters from the March 2009 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The sample is also weighted to match current patterns of telephone status based on extrapolations from the 2009 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size within the landline sample. 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 survey:
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.