As the G-8 leaders prepare to meet at Camp David on Friday, the dominant topic of conversation will be the European debt crisis. Yet it is a crisis that has attracted minimal interest or concern among the U.S. public, despite warnings from economists that Europe’s problems may threaten this country’s fragile recovery.
Last week was typical: In the Pew Research Center’s weekly News Interest Index, just 17% said they were following news about economic problems in Europe very closely. Just 3% cited this as their top story of the week. By comparison, 40% tracked U.S. economic news very closely and 20% said they followed it more closely than any other story.
A week earlier, nearly four times as many said the death of football player Junior Seau was their top story than cited Europe’s economic problems (11% vs. 3%).
In part, the public’s lack of interest Europe’s woes is part of a broader indifference to international news. Last year, there were a number of breakthrough foreign stories, from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the “Arab spring.” Not this year. Aside from the deadly crash of a cruise ship off the coast of Italy in January, no international story has come close to topping the weekly news interest index.
The public does not believe Europe’s financial crisis presents much of a threat to the U.S. economy. Last December, Pew Research asked about the seriousness of several possible threats to the U.S. economy. Fully 76% said the size of the national debt posed a major threat to U.S. economic well-being. Fewer than half (46%) said Europe’s economic problems represented a major threat. In terms of foreign threats, far more viewed economic competition from China as a major concern than the European crisis.
There were wide partisan differences over several possible economic threats, but not the Europe crisis. Only about half of Republicans and independents (49% each) said Europe’s economic problems represented a major threat to U.S. well-being, as did 43% of Democrats.