Election Coverage Tops Public Interest

By: Debra Dersh Hernandez More than three-quarters of Americans closely followed the
outcomes, according to the Times Mirror News Interest Index

by Debra Gersh Hernandez

THE 1994 ELECTIONS topped the chart of public interest, with more than three-quarters of Americans closely following the outcome.
According to the Times Mirror News Interest Index for December, 41% of those surveyed said they very closely followed the electoral outcome, with another 36% reporting they watched fairly closely.
Nevertheless, half of the respondents said they did not learn enough about the candidates and the issues to make an informed choice at the polls, according to the report from the Washington-based Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press.
The deployment of U.S. troops to Haiti was followed closely by 70% of the public (31% very closely, 39% fairly closely). The latest numbers reflect a decline in interest from the October 1994 survey, when 79% followed the story closely (38% very closely, 41% fairly closely).
Reports about the condition of the U.S. economy continued to attract interest ? less so than in earlier surveys but slightly more than so in the last report in October.
In the December report, 71% of the public closely followed news of the economy (28% very closely, 43% fairly closely), compared to 67% in October (27% very closely, 40% fairly closely).
Interest in the economy peaked in the February 1993 survey, when 85% of respondents closely followed economic news (49% very closely, 36% fairly closely).
The California proposal to bar education, health and welfare benefits to undocumented aliens, Proposition 187, was next on the interest index, with 58% of respondents closely following reports of its progression (26% very closely, 32% fairly closely).
An additional 44% was fairly evenly split between those who followed it not too closely (22%) or not at all closely (20%).
Considerably more Hispanics (43%) very closely followed news of Proposition 187 than did blacks (38%) or whites (24%), as did those Hispanics in the West (46%), compared to other parts of the country (24% in the East, 23% in the Midwest, and 17% in the South).
Less than one quarter (23%) of the public very closely followed news of the O.J. Simpson case, a considerable decline from June 1994, when nearly half (48%) reported following the Simpson story very closely.
Nearly as many respondents in the December report (22%) said they followed the Simpson case not at all closely, although most followed it fairly closely (29%) or not too closely (25%).
More blacks (41%) followed the Simpson case very closely than did whites (21%) or Hispanics (37%).
Although recent comments by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) regarding President Bill Clinton attracted quite a bit of attention inside the Beltway, they received little notice among the public.
Nearly a third (32%) of those surveyed said they not at all closely followed news about the senator's comments, with another 27% reporting they followed it not too closely, 21% said fairly closely, and 19% said very closely.
When asked to give their impressions of various politicians, 47% of the public awarded Helms an unfavorable rating (25% mostly unfavorable, 22% very unfavorable) and 29%, a favorable rating (5% very favorable, 24% mostly favorable). Eight percent of those polled never heard of the senator.
Although interest in the debate over the GATT agreement was slight, compared to that in other news items, it increased considerably in the December report from the October survey.
In December, 16% of respondents very closely followed the GATT story, compared to only 8% who reported the same thing in October.
In the December survey, 28% said they fairly closely followed news of GATT (compared to 18% in October), 27% followed it not too closely (29% in October), and 28% said they followed it not at all closely (43% said the same in October).
Among those who very or fairly closely followed the GATT debate, 64% supported the agreement and 28% were in opposition.
Attracting the least interest in December was news about Bosnia, a story that half of the respondents closely followed (13% very closely, 37% fairly closely). An additional 32% followed news about Bosnia not too closely, and 18% reported following it not at all closely.
At its peak interest, in May 1993, the Bosnia story was closely followed by 57% of respondents (23% very closely, 34% fairly closely).
Despite a decline in interest, however, half of those surveyed correctly identified the Serbs as winning the war.
Nine percent thought it was the Muslims, 4% said neither, and 37% did not know or refused to answer.

Nevertheless, half of the respondents said they did not learn enough about the candidates and the issues to make an informed choice at the polls.
(See Survey on page 31)


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