01/24/2008 - Public interest in economic news soared last week amid continued stock market volatility and concerns about a possible recession. More than four-in-ten Americans (42%) followed news about the condition of the U.S. economy very closely and 20% listed this as the single news story they followed more closely than any other. That marks the highest level of public interest in economic news in five years. Interest was only somewhat greater during the recession of the early 1990s.
When asked what one economic or financial problem they have been hearing the most about in the news recently, a plurality of Americans point to problems with the housing market. More than three-in-ten (31%) mention the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the increasing number of home foreclosures or falling home values. This is more than twice the percentage citing any other economic problem, and more than five times the number who cited the stock market during a week when the market lost more than 500 points.
Those who have been following economic news very closely are among the most likely to list the housing situation as the problem they have been hearing the most about in the news lately. Fully 38% of those paying very close attention to economic news listed housing as the top issue in the news. This compares with 34% of those following economic news fairly closely and only 18% of those who are not following economic news closely or at all.
Fourteen percent of the public mentioned the possibility of a recession as the economic problem they had been hearing the most about in the news recently, placing it a distant second behind the housing crisis. Rising gas and oil prices were mentioned by 7% of the public. Another 6% named the stock market. George Bush's economic stimulus plan was mentioned by 3% of the public – with equal proportions of Republicans and Democrats naming this as the economic issue they had heard the most about lately.
While news organizations devoted considerable coverage to the economy last week, economic news was far overshadowed by presidential campaign coverage. Overall, 39% of all news stories were devoted to the campaign, down from 49% a week earlier, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Campaign Coverage Index. By comparison, economic news accounted for 12% of all coverage – a substantial amount, but less than a third of the coverage devoted to the campaign.
Read the full report Housing Crisis More Visible Than Other Economic Problems on the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Web site.