The Public Monitors Congress p. 24

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Latest Times Mirror Center poll reveals close interest in
news stories about a wide range of congressional proposals sp.

CONGRESS CAPTURED THE public's attention in August, with two of its debates topping the list of very closely followed news stories.
The latest survey from the Washington-based Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press showed that 27% of the public very closely followed congressional proposals to reduce Medicare, while another 26% very closely followed the debate over welfare reform.
Other congressional endeavors attracting very close attention were a proposal to eliminate affirmative action programs (19%), the debate over the federal budget (18%), hearings on the FBI raid in Waco (18%) and hearings about Whitewater (11%).
But despite paying at least some attention to Congress, less than a quarter (21%) of the public knew that the House had passed more legislation than the Senate; 60% said they did not know the answer and 19% gave the wrong answer.
Of the 11% who were very closely following the Whitewater hearings, 36% thought the media attention was about right while 41% thought the amount of attention from Congress was about right.
Not surprisingly, half of the 62% who said they were not following the hearings too closely believed the media were paying too much attention to the story, and 56% thought Congress had given it too much attention.
Overall, 45% of the respondents said the media were giving too much attention to the Whitewater case, with 37% responding the amount was about right and 15% believing it was too little.
Most people did not know whether Congress was acting to increase or decrease telecommunications regulations. While 38% correctly answered decreasing, 23% gave another answer and 39% said they did not know.
Among those who knew the regulations were to be decreased, 47% thought it was a good idea, 33% said it was a bad idea and 20% didn't know or refused to answer.
About half (52%) the respondents said the amount of coverage of sexual harassment charges against Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) was about right, 28% thought it received too much media attention, and 14% said too little.
The third most closely followed story in August was the death of former New York Yankee Mickey Mantle, which just under a quarter (24%) of the public said they very closely followed.
The O.J. Simpson trial continued to hover near the low end of the interest pool, with 19% of the public paying very close attention, compared to 48% in June 1994 when the former football star was arrested.
Interest in the civil war in Bosnia fell slightly to 16%, despite the fact that the weekend the survey was conducted three U.S. diplomats were killed in an auto accident.
By comparison, two months earlier, just after Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady had been rescued, 22% of the public professed they very closely followed news from Bosnia.
Over half (57%) of respondents did not know whether President Clinton favored lifting the arms embargo in Bosnia and another 19% gave the wrong answer. Only 24% correctly said he opposed it.
The lack of interest in news about the Republican candidates ? only 13% of the public very closely followed this story ? might explain why so few people, even Republicans, could name more than one candidate.
Forty-four percent of all respondents and 34% of Republicans said they could not name any of the Republican candidates for president.
Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was named by 51% of the general public and 60% of Republicans, while the name of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm was recalled by 18% of the public and 24% of Republicans.
Nevertheless, those paying at least some attention to the Republicans accounted for about half of the respondents ? 13% followed it very closely, 34% fairly closely; compared to 28% not too closely and 25% not at all closely.
Registering in single-digit interest were the Disney deal to purchase Cap Cities/ABC, the death of Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia, and Ross Perot's political convention in Dallas, which were very closely followed by 9%, 8% and 7% of the public, respectively.


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