News Interest Index: Political Water Cooler Conversation Features Ferraro, Rev. Wright

  • March 20, 2008

On the eve of Barack Obama's major speech on race and politics, most Americans said they had heard at least a little about the videos showing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright making racially-charged statements to his Chicago congregation.

At the time of the survey, however, there was greater public awareness of other recent campaign events. Last week, in fact, more Americans said they had heard a lot about Geraldine Ferraro's statements asserting that Obama's race has been a major advantage in his campaign than had heard about videos of Wright preaching to his congregation; 40% said they had heard a lot about Ferraro's statements, while 31% had heard a lot about videos of Wright's sermons.

Looking at the major campaign events of the past month, more Americans heard about accusations that Obama had plagiarized sections of a speech by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick than heard about the Wright tapes. Fewer heard about Obama's connections to Tony Rezko. The most widely known campaign story over this period of time involved reports that John McCain may have had an improper relationship with a female lobbyist - 48% of the public heard a lot about this.

In other major campaign news last week, 37% of the public heard a lot about Clinton's suggestions that she might consider Obama as her running mate. Nearly half of the public (46%) heard a little about this while 17% have heard nothing at all. Roughly a third (34%) have heard a lot about the debate over how to handle the outcome of the Democratic primaries in Florida and Michigan; 43% have heard a little about this and 22% have heard nothing at all.

Obama was by far the leading newsmaker during a week where dueling racial controversies drove much of the campaign news coverage. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Campaign Coverage Index, Obama was featured prominently in 67% of all campaign stories while Clinton was featured in 51%. McCain was the featured newsmaker in only 15% of campaign stories.

Obama also came out ahead of Clinton as the most visible candidate in the eyes of the public. Fully 57% of the public said Obama was the candidate they had heard the most about in the news in the past week, while 26% named Clinton. Only 4% of the public and 8% of Republicans named McCain as the candidate they had heard the most about in the news last week. The previous week Obama and Clinton were in a virtual tie in terms of public visibility (37% named Clinton, 38% named Obama), with McCain trailing far behind both Democrats (6%).

Overall, the campaign accounted for 27% of the national newshole last week. Public interest in the campaign remained high - 40% followed the story very closely and 37% listed this as the single news story they followed more closely than any other last week. In another measure of public engagement in the campaign, an overwhelming majority of Americans are talking about the campaign with family and friends. Fully 84% say the campaign has come up in conversations with people they know.

Read the full report Most Aware of Ferraro's Comments, Wright Videos on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.