People don't pay much attention to the news.
We make this point regularly when asked, for example, how the situation in Ukraine will affect the November election. It almost certainly won't. The Russia-Ukraine-Crimea story is a complex one that requires a news consumer to engage deeply in the subject matter. And, to be honest, the average news consumer in the United States is a headline-reader -- at best. A new study by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute -- the entire thing is enlightening about how we consume (and don't consume) news -- affirms this fact.
Here are the key sentences from the study:
Fewer Americans invest additional time into following the news more in-depth. The survey asked people about going in-depth for news two different ways. It asked whether people generally tried to get news in-depth on any subject in the last week. It also asked, when they recalled a breaking news story they followed in the last week, whether they had tried to find out more about it after initially learning of it.
Overall, 41 percent of Americans report that they watched, read, or heard any in-depth news stories, beyond the headlines, in the last week. Slightly more people, 49 percent, report that they invested additional time to delve deeper and follow up on the last breaking news story they followed.
So, roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week. And, in truth, that number is almost certainly higher than that, since plenty of people won't want to admit to just being headline-gazers but, in fact, are. Here's that breakdown in chart form:
The lesson for politicians and those who cover them? The more complex an issue, the less likely it is to break through with a public that really consumes news via headlines and not much else. It's also a reminder that simple messaging is almost always the most effective. "Hope and Change." "Compassionate Conservative." Easy to remember. Fits on a bumper sticker. Or a headline.