Summary of Findings

Four months after the fall of Baghdad, developments in Iraq continue to top the public’s news agenda. Nearly half of Americans (45%) say they are following news about the current situation in Iraq very closely, while another 39% say they are following the story fairly closely. But many fewer Americans are paying very close attention to other news stories that have been dominating coverage this summer.

Fewer than one-in-five say they are paying close attention to news about the California recall election, Kobe Bryant’s troubles or even the debate about gay marriages. Interest in coverage of the Democratic presidential candidates is equally limited, and lower than it was four year ago at this time when both parties had nomination races.

Just 19% of Americans are paying very close attention to the debate over allowing gays and lesbians to marry. But religious conservatives are tracking this story more closely than are members of other religious groups. White evangelical Protestants are far more likely to be following this news very closely (32%) than are white Catholics (20%), white mainline Protestants (12%) or seculars (10%).

Reports about the sexual assault case against NBA star Kobe Bryant are drawing high levels of interest from 17% of Americans. Comparable percentages of men and women are following this story (18% of men and 16% of women are following very closely), but there is a significant racial divide. Fully 47% of African-Americans say they are following news about the Bryant case very closely, compared with just 13% of non-Hispanic whites and 18% of Hispanics.

Despite extensive news coverage of the California recall, just 15% of Americans ­ 12% of those outside of California ­ are following this story very closely. But in California, this story rivals news about the situation in Iraq on the public’s agenda.

The public remains largely disinterested in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Just 12% say they are following news about the candidates and campaign very closely, with another 27% following fairly closely. This is up only slightly from May, when 8% were following this story very closely and January (14%), when most of the candidates were first announcing their campaigns.

Roughly half of Democrats are following news about the nomination race very (20%) or fairly (29%) closely, compared to only about a third of Republicans (9% very closely, 26% fairly). Overall, fully one-third of the public reports paying no attention to campaign news.

While public interest in news about Iraq tops other major national stories it is still significantly below what it was in the pre-war period. In February and March, 62% reported following the debate about the war very closely.

The survey also shows President Bush’s approval rating is 56%, up slightly from his early August reading of 53%. About a third disapprove of Bush’s job performance (32%), down from 37% in early August.