Survey Findings

On October 27, the day the stock market plunged more than 550 points, worried Americans turned to new media sources for instant information. Many of those who followed the story “very” closely tracked news of the sell-off either on cable television or over the Internet — news outlets that were not factors in coverage of the crash of 1987.

All-news cable television was the top source for highly attentive news consumers tracking the story, drawing 35% of this audience. But the Internet was the comer, its audience tripling during the course of the day. Just 3% learned about the market drop over the Internet, but fully 11% of the attentive audience tracked the story on-line. Network television news was the prime source for a quarter of those following the story closely; 18% relied on radio. These are the findings of a Pew Research Center phone survey of 1,000 adults conducted October 31-November 5.

Cable television was relied on by affluent people who have larger stock portfolios and greater access to cable. Network television news was the medium of choice for the less affluent and the less educated. (See Table p.3)

The Internet was used by more than one in five of those age 18-49, but by hardly anyone over 50 years of age. The survey found that nearly half of the attentive audience with on-line capability followed the market via the Internet on October 27.

Fear motivated interested news consumers as the market tumbled. While only 29% of Americans overall said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about the market decline, more than half of the highly attentive audience (53%) reported such concern. Fully 61% of the attentive audience own shares in a mutual fund and 46% own stock.

While the anxious tuned in, most Americans tuned out. Despite the heavy media coverage that day, just 16% overall said they followed news of the market decline very closely. This is far fewer than the 40% who closely followed the crash of 1987, and less than the average of 25% who follow most major news events closely. Half of those surveyed (55%) said they did not follow news of the 554-point October stock market fall “too closely” or “at all”.

Americans were, however, well informed about the market drop. More than half of those who paid at least some attention to the story (56%) correctly picked a 500 point drop from a list that included 1000, 750, 500 and 250.