Summary of Findings

The public continued to show strong interest last week in news about the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., though the story did not dominate media coverage as it had one week earlier.

More than four-in-ten Americans (44%) say they followed news about the aftermath of the Jan. 8 shootings more closely than any other news last week, according to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted Jan. 20-23 among 1,001 adults. One week earlier, 49% said this was the news they followed most closely.

News about the shootings and what followed them – with a strong focus on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ recovery and debate over angry political rhetoric in the United States – accounted for 17% of coverage last week, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). The story accounted for 57% of the newshole in the week immediately after the shootings.

Among the other top stories for the public – both well behind the Arizona rampage – were news about the economy (14% most closely) and news about Republican efforts to repeal the health care law enacted in 2010 (12% most closely). These stories each accounted for 8% of coverage.

Few Americans say they followed news about the visit to this country by Chinese President Hu Jintao most closely (3%). Still, news about the visit accounted for 11% of the newshole, making the trip the second most covered story of the week.

Partisan Differences Over the Week’s News

More than half of Democrats (55%) say they tracked news about the Arizona shootings very closely, compared with 44% of Republicans and 39% of independents. and while 54% of Democrats say the Arizona shooting were the story they followed most closely, fewer independents (44%) and Republicans (41%) say this.

There also is a gender gap in attentiveness to news about the Arizona shootings: 53% of women say it was the story they followed most closely, compared with 36% of men.

Republicans are more likely to say they followed news about the GOP effort to repeal last year’s health care bill very closely (41%) than are either Democrats (29%) or independents (27%). Republicans also are more likely to say that this was the story they followed most closely; 19% say this, compared with 10% each of Democrats and independents .Those 50 and older are much more likely to say they followed this news very closely than those 49 and younger (40% vs. 21%).

Close to four-in-ten (37%) Americans say they followed news about the economy very closely last week, a level of interest little changed since the start of December; 14% say they followed news about the economy most closely. Partisan differences on economic news are slight.

Other stories garnered relatively low interest, including the visit to the U.S. by Chinese President Hu Jintao, news about political instability and earthquake recovery in Haiti and news about instability in Tunisia following the government’s collapse there.

Just more than one-in-ten (13%) say they followed news about the Chinese leader’s visit very closely, while 3% say this was the news they followed most closely. There are no significant differences in interest among partisans.

Meanwhile, 16% say they followed reports out of Haiti very closely and 7% say they followed news about instability in Tunisia that closely. News out of Haiti accounted for 3% of coverage, while news about Tunisia accounted for 2%.

Many Have Heard About Steve Jobs’ Medical Leave

More than half of the public (56%) says they heard at least a little last week about Apple CEO Steve Jobs taking another medical leave. Nearly one quarter (23%) say they heard a lot about Jobs’ announcement, while 33% say they heard a little.  In June 2009, fewer (9%) had heard a lot about Jobs’ liver transplant. At that point, 33% said they had heard a little about his transplant.

About half (49% each) say they heard at least a little about a proposal that Republicans and Democrats sit together at President Obama’s Jan. 25 State of the Union address or about Sen. Joe Lieberman’s announcement that he would not seek reelection in 2012.

Just 15% say they heard a lot about the proposal for bipartisan seating at the annual speech in the House chamber, while 34% heard a little about this. Half say they heard nothing about the plan. About two-in-ten Democrats (21%) say they had heard a lot about the proposal, compared with 10% of independents. Among Republicans, 17% say they heard a lot about this.

Looking at Lieberman’s retirement plans, 14% say they heard a lot about the Connecticut independent’s announcement while 35% heard a little. Again, 50% say they heard nothing at all about this. There are no significant differences among partisans.

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 January 17-23, and survey data measuring public interest in the top news stories of the week were collected January 20-23, from a nationally representative sample of 1,001 adults.

About the Survey

The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted January 20-23, 2011 among a national sample of 1,001 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States (671 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 330 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 135 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see:

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 2010 Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2010 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 sample sizes and the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey:

Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are available upon request.

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.