News Interest Index: Public Closely Tracking Details of Campaign

Mar 13, 2008

Not only are Americans following election news in record numbers this year, they are tracking the details of the campaign -- the charges, countercharges and controversial advertisements -- extremely closely. Large majorities say they have heard at least something about rumors that Barack Obama is a Muslim; Hillary Clinton's 3:00 a.m. phone call ad; and George Bush's endorsement of John McCain. And the revelation that a top foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama had referred to Clinton as a "monster," a one-day story at best, registered with a large percentage of the public.

The most widely recognized item tested in the survey was rumors that Obama, who has made clear that he is a Christian, is actually a Muslim. Nearly four-in-ten Americans (38%) have heard a lot about these rumors, while 41% have heard at least a little about them.

The public is nearly twice as likely to be aware of these rumors as to have heard about Obama's connections to a Chicago businessman, Tony Rezko, who is currently on trial for corruption. Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to have heard about the Muslim rumors.

Fully 38% of the public has heard a lot about Clinton's ad that raised the issue of which candidate is most qualified to answer the phone at 3:00 a.m. in a national emergency. Nearly half of residents of the South (45%) say they have heard a lot about this, which aired only in Texas. But even in the West, where no primaries were held last week, 30% have heard a lot about it. Nearly equal proportions of Republicans and Democrats are aware of the ad.

More than a third of the public (36%) has heard a lot about Bush's endorsement of McCain, 39% have heard a little about this. Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to have heard about the endorsement.

News that one of Obama's top foreign policy advisors, Samantha Power, referred to Clinton as a "monster" in a newspaper interview reached a large segment of the public. Power quickly resigned from the campaign after the comment was revealed. About three-in-ten (29%) say they heard a lot about this and 34% heard a little. Roughly a third heard nothing at all.

One-in-five Americans have heard a lot about Obama's ties to Rezko, the Chicago businessman; 35% have heard a little about this. Among those who are following the campaign very closely, a third has heard a lot about Obama's connections to Rezko. Among those who are not paying as close attention to the campaign, only 12% have heard a lot about this. More than half (55%) haven't heard anything at all.

Roughly half of the public says they have heard at least a little about calls for Clinton to release her tax returns (19% have heard a lot, 33% have heard a little). Fewer are familiar with an ad featuring Jack Nicholson praising Clinton (9% have heard a lot, 27% have heard a little). More Democrats than Republicans have heard about the Nicholson ad.

Read the full report Public Closely Tracking Details of Campaign on the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Web site.

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