Summary of Findings

News about the economy has been overshadowed by the Gulf oil leak in recent weeks. And in the public’s view, the economic news has not improved. Currently, 65% say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about the economy, while 30% say they are hearing mostly bad news and just 4% say they are hearing mostly good news.

These opinions are virtually unchanged from May and have changed little for more than a year. When the question was first asked in December 2008, 80% said they were hearing mostly bad news about the economy; that figure dropped to 31% by May 2009. Since then, majorities have consistently said they are hearing a mix of good and bad economic news.

The latest News Interest Index survey, conducted June 10-13 among 1,010 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that public interest in the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico continues to overshadow interest in other stories. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) say they followed news about the oil leak more closely than any other story, far surpassing the proportion citing the economy (8%) or any other story.

The oil leak continues to dominate news coverage as well. About a third of all coverage (34%) was devoted to the oil leak, far more than any other story, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Election news was the second most covered story last week, with 12% of the newshole dedicated to primaries around the country, but the public was not especially engaged with that story: While 20% say they followed the elections very closely, just 3% say it is the story they followed most closely. More Republicans (30%) followed election news very closely than either independents (21%) or Democrats (12%).

The Week’s Other News

Other news topics attracted far less public attention last week. Joran van der Sloot, the Dutch man suspected in the 2005 disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, resurfaced in the news last week, when he was arrested and soon confessed to killing a woman in Peru. This story accounted for 3% of news coverage, according PEJ. Nearly a quarter of public (23%) followed this story very closely and 6% say it is the story they followed most closely.

About one-in-five followed news about the new UN sanctions on Iran (19%) very closely, and 2% name this as their top story. News about the sanctions approved last week in response to Iran’s nuclear program made up 3% of newshole, according to PEJ.

The NBA finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics received less than 1% of all news coverage last week; 15% of the public followed the finals very closely and 6% said it was their most closely followed story last week. People living in the West are following news about the basketball finals more closely than are people living elsewhere: 25% of Westerners are following the NBA finals very closely, while just 15% of Easterners and Southerners and 7% of Midwesterners are doing the same.

There are gender differences in attentiveness to both the basketball championship and the Peruvian murder-confession story. Nearly twice as many men as women followed the NBA finals very closely (20% vs. 11%); more women (29%) than men (17%) followed the Peruvian murder case very closely.

Few Heard Much about Helen Thomas Gaffe

About one-in-five people (22%) heard a lot about Helen Thomas’ resignation as a Hearst political columnist, following a controversial remark she made about Israel, and as many (22%) heard a lot about a U.S. Border Patrol agent fatally shooting a Mexican teenager near the Texas-Mexico border.

Slightly fewer Americans say they heard a lot about the congressional debate over energy and environmental policy (18%) or the start of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s federal trial on corruption charges (16%).

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 June 7-13, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected June 10-13, from a nationally representative sample of 1,010 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 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 1,010 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from June 10-13, 2010 (678 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 332 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 116 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.