As the Republican candidates battle for the chance to challenge Barack Obama in November, many Americans are highly critical of the presidential campaign.
Half (50%) say the campaign has been too negative. By comparison, four years ago, amidst primary fights in both parties, just 28% said the campaign at that point was too negative. Current ratings are more comparable to impressions of the 2004 Democratic primary campaign.
Most Americans (55%) describe the 2012 campaign so far as dull, with just 36% saying they find it interesting. This, too, is a reversal from four years ago, when seven-in-ten rated the campaign as interesting and just a quarter said it was dull. The share rating the 2012 campaign as either informative or important is also significantly lower than at a comparable point in 2008.
One constant is the impression that the campaign is too long. According to the latest weekly News Interest Index survey, conducted Jan. 12-15 among 1,008 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 57% say the campaign has been too long, while 35% say it has not been too long. This is virtually identical to public evaluations of previous presidential campaigns.
With the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10, the presidential campaign was the public’s and the media’s top story last week. Three-in-ten (31%) say this was the news they followed most closely; 20% say their top story was the economy. Campaign news dominated coverage, accounting for 41% of the newshole, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).
About half of the public (51%) says Mitt Romney is the candidate they have the most about in the news recently, far more than any other Republican candidate. Romney also was by far the most heard about candidate one week earlier, following his narrow win over Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses. These public impressions are consistent with the amount of news coverage devoted to each candidate. According to PEJ, Romney was a significant player in 69% of election stories analyzed last week. No one else comes close. Romney also has been receiving more negative attention than earlier in the campaign. (See: The Bain Story Hurts Romney and His Critics. )
About six-in-ten (61%) say they have heard at least a little about Romney’s tenure as head of Bain Capital, a private equity firm that critics say killed jobs when restructuring troubled companies. Among those who heard at least a little about Romney’s record at Bain, most (70%) say they think this is an important issue for people to know about.
Too Much Campaign Coverage?
Currently, the public is divided over whether the campaign is receiving too much coverage or the right amount; 36% say too much and 36% say the right amount. Just 16% say news organizations are giving the campaign too little coverage. Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say that there has been too much coverage (41% vs. 32%).
The current numbers are not much different from January 2008, also shortly after the New Hampshire primaries. At that time, 40% said news organizations were giving the campaign too much coverage, 44% said they were giving it the right amount and 11% said too little.
The share of people who feel the early campaigns are overcovered has been significantly higher in 2008 and 2012 than in previous primary elections. At comparable points in previous campaigns going back to 1992, majorities said news organizations were giving the campaigns the right amount of coverage.
Most Aware of Bain Capital Controversy
About six-in-ten Americans have heard at least a little about Romney’s record as head of Bain Capital, a major topic of debate among the GOP candidates in recent weeks; 21% say they heard a lot about this, while 40% heard a little. Another 38% say they heard nothing at all. Partisans are about equally likely to have heard about this: 66% of Republicans, 65% of Democrats and 61% of independents say they have heard at least a little about this.
Among those who say they heard at least a little, most (70%) say Romney’s record at Bain Capital is an important issue for people to know about. Just 25% say it is not an important issue. Democrats (80%) are more likely to say this is an important issue than Republicans (60%), although majorities in both parties agree this is an important issue. Among independents who have heard at least a little, 72% say this issue is important.
GOP More Likely to See Campaign as Interesting, Informative
With just the GOP engaged in a primary fight in 2012, Republicans are somewhat more positive about the campaign so far than Democrats or independents.
Nearly half of Republicans (48%) say the campaign is interesting, compared with 35% of Democrats and 34% of independents. Four years ago, the percentage finding the campaign interesting was higher across the board: 80% of Democrats, 68% of Republicans and 64% of independents.
Today, Republicans (49%) also are less likely than Democrats (60%) or independents (59%) to say the campaign is too long. Four years ago, Democrats were least likely to see the campaign as too long; 49% said this, compared with 63% of Republicans and 60% of independents.
Republicans are almost evenly divided on whether the campaign is too negative or not (48% vs. 46%). Among Democrats, the balance tilts toward too negative (53% vs. 40%). Independent views on this are little different from Republicans.
The Week’s News
Following Romney’s win in New Hampshire, news about the presidential election topped both the public’s news interest and media coverage.
About three-in-ten (31%) say they followed election news most closely. Looking at a separate measure, 29% say they followed news about the candidates very closely, matching the number that said this one week earlier. More than a third of Republicans (36%) say they followed election news very closely, about the same as the 31% of Democrats who say this, and slightly more than independents (26%). News about the 2012 elections made up 41% of coverage.
Two-in-ten (20%) say they followed news about the economy most closely. A third say they followed reports about the condition of the U.S. economy very closely, down slightly from 39% one week earlier. News about the economy accounted for 6% of coverage.
About one-in-ten (11%) say their top story was the mounting tensions between the U.S. and Iran; 24% say they followed this news very closely. News about Iran made up 5% of the newshole.
The European debt crisis attracted little attention or coverage last week; 3% say this was their top story, while 12% say they followed this news very closely. The ongoing crisis accounted for 2% of coverage.
The situation in Syria attracted similarly low interest; 3% say this was the news they followed most closely, while 12% say they followed this news very closely. News about political violence in Syria made up 2% of coverage.
Few closely followed news about a Supreme Court ruling that allowed greater leeway for churches and other religious groups in hiring. Just 1% say this was the story they followed most closely; 8% say they followed this news very closely. News about the Supreme Court accounted for 2% of coverage.
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 Jan. 9-15, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected Jan.12-15 from a nationally representative sample of 1,008 adults.