Two major disasters – the earthquake in Haiti and the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico – captured the public's attention more than any other major stories in 2010, but Americans also kept a consistent eye on the nation's struggling economy.
In mid-January, 60% of the public said they were following news about the horrific earthquake in Haiti very closely. In mid-July, a comparable 59% said they were following news very closely about the major oil leak in the Gulf that started with a deadly explosion on an oil rig.
Throughout the year, the economy – the top story in both 2009 and 2008 – was never far from the top of the public's news interest. That is especially true for the second half of the year amid indications the recovery had stalled. In early December, for example, 52% said they were following news about the economy very closely. That was the highest level since mid-summer, though relatively high percentages said they very closely followed news about the economy– or related issues such as an extension of jobless benefits – all year.
According to the weekly News Interest Index survey, the public also closely tracked news about the long-running debate over health care legislation in Washington. Interest peaked at 51% following very closely in mid-March as the House passed the legislation and sent it to President Obama for his signature. And in January, a special election for a Senate seat in Massachusetts attracted unusually high interest because of its implications for the health care bill. More than a third (36%) paid very close attention to Republican Scott Brown's victory, which dealt a temporary setback to supporters of health care legislation.
The dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners from a collapsed mine in October drew substantial public interest (49% very closely). That rare good news story attracted much more attention than the April mine accident in West Virginia that left 29 dead. A third of the public (33%) followed that story very closely.
Read the full report Top Stories of 2010: Haiti Earthquake, Gulf Oil Spill on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.