News Interest Index: Plane Crash Draws As Much Interest As Economy

Jan 23, 2009

Americans last week followed the dramatic emergency landing of US Airways flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River as closely as they followed news about the nation’s number one problem: the troubled economy. One-in-four say the crash – which resulted in no fatalities and turned pilot Chesley Sullenberger into a national hero – was the story they followed most closely last week, while 23% say they followed economic developments most closely.

The crash and quick rescue of all passengers and crew from the river’s freezing water captured the very close attention of 44% of the public, according to the latest Pew Research Center weekly News Interest Index survey conducted Jan. 16-19. That compares with 43% who say they followed economic news very closely last week.

Among domestic airline and train accidents of recent years, only one attracted significantly greater public interest: the deadly crash of TWA flight 800 off the coast of New York after a fuel tank exploded.  Fully 69% of the public followed this story very closely in July 1996. Roughly the same percentage followed the recent US Airways story as followed the crash of American Airlines flight 587 near New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in November 2001 (48% followed news about this accident very closely). That crash resulted in more than 250 deaths.  

The public also remains interested in news about the U.S. economy, though the percent of Americans following the financial crisis very closely has slipped considerably since its high in late September amid talk of an imminent global economic meltdown. About four-in-ten (43%) say they were following news about the economy very closely last week, which is little changed since early January (42%). In late September, 70% said they were tracking economic news very closely.

Read the full report Plane Crash Draws As Much Interest As Economy on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.

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