This week was more of a normal week for news – something we haven’t had in a long time. A Hollywood story broke through the headlines, as Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars became fodder for newscasts throughout the country.
Indeed, a story that might have made waves months ago – the government authorizing a fourth Covid-19 vaccine for adults 50 and over – barely made a dent. The fact that the coronavirus pandemic, now in its third year, is no longer a top news story is where we begin this week’s statistical journey.
For about two years, the popularity of the president (whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden) was tied to how he was handling the coronavirus pandemic. Then a funny thing happened. As Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths started falling over the last few months, Biden’s approval rating on the pandemic went up while his overall approval rating stayed flat.
A recent Gallup poll gives us good insight. Just 3% of Americans said the coronavirus or diseases are the top problem facing the country. That’s less than half the previous low for this answer (8%), which occurred in mid-2021 when case rates were also falling.
Two years ago (April 2020), a record 45% said the coronavirus was the top problem in the country. It’s not surprising that we’re nowhere near that level anymore. Still, I had to take a step back when I saw that 3%.
In January, 20% of Americans said the coronavirus was the most important problem facing the country.
The Gallup poll isn’t the only one to show that the significance of the pandemic in the minds of Americans has fallen dramatically. A recent NBC News poll also found that just 3% said the coronavirus was the most important issue facing the country.
The public is not alone in caring less about the pandemic than ever before. Cable news had fewer mentions of “covid” in March (less than 2,700) than in any month since the beginning of the pandemic. At its peak, there were over 17,000 monthly mentions of “covid” on cable news.
This shift in coronavirus coverage likely helps Republicans. The pandemic has been one of Biden’s best issues. In the NBC News poll, more Americans approved of Biden on the coronavirus (51%) than on any other issue.
But an ABC News-Washington Post poll from February showed that about as many voters (42%) trusted the Democrats on the coronavirus as they did Republicans (39%).
Compare how Americans feel about the coronavirus with how they feel about the economy. Economic problems are now cited by more Americans as the top issue (35%) than any other problem, according to Gallup.
Biden’s approval on the economy was 33%, per the NBC News poll. (Sixty-three percent disapproved.) Voters trusted the Republican Party as best to handle the economy by 20 points (55% to 35% for Democrats), according to the ABC News-Washington Post survey.
A midterm election fought on the economy and issues related to it (e.g., inflation) is an election Republicans are in a stronger position to win. And given the recent midterm indicators, Republicans will likely do very well in November.
Unlike the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has never been the top-of-mind issue for Americans. It has, however, been the top news story.
The latest polling shows that the interest Americans have had in the conflict may be waning, with a notable partisan gap emerging.
Take a look at the Reuters/Ipsos polls. While this weekly survey doesn’t ask about Ukraine specifically, it does include “war and foreign conflict” as an option when asking about the most important problem facing America.
This week, 11% of Americans said war and foreign conflict was the most important problem. That’s down from 14% the previous week, 16% two weeks ago and 17% three weeks ago.
This decline in interest is mirrored by what we see on television. There were about 4,500 mentions of Ukraine during the Monday-through-Wednesday period on cable news this past week. Over the same three days four weeks prior, Ukraine was mentioned about 7,000 times.
The dip has been clearest on Fox. While mentions of Ukraine on CNN and MSNBC have fallen by about 28% over the past month, they’ve fallen by 50% on Fox.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans less likely to care about what’s going on overseas tend to be Republicans. Three weeks ago, 17% of Republicans told Ipsos that war and foreign conflict was the country’s most important problem. This week, it’s 8%. Four times as many Republicans (32%) said the nation’s top problem was the economy, unemployment and jobs, per this week’s poll. Among Democrats, 18% ranked the economy, unemployment and jobs as the top problem compared with 13% who said war and foreign conflicts.
The partisan split over the significance of overseas conflicts is something seen in other polls as well. The Gallup poll I mentioned earlier is a little older, though it mentions Russia and Ukraine specifically. In that survey, 9% of Americans said the “situation with Russia and Ukraine” was the top problem facing the country. Among Democrats, it was 12%. Among Republicans, it was 4%.
To be clear, Democrats and Republicans generally have similar feelings about the role America should play in Ukraine. It’s just that Democrats feel more strongly about the issue.
Most of the attention this weekend will be on the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. Yet a lot of Americans are keeping an eye on the women’s tournament, which I recently wrote about.
One thing to keep in mind: More than 4 million Americans tuned in to last year’s women’s college basketball championship game. None of the Stanley Cup games reached that level of viewership in the US last year.
Last week’s brief encounter: I previously spoke about how the Oscars were seeing declining ratings. There was a bit of a recovery this year, with nearly 17 million people tuning in last Sunday.
No doubt, many who weren’t watching started paying attention once news of Smith slapping Rock became known.
While it’s unclear what repercussions Smith will face, keep in mind that about 75% of Americans viewed him favorably prior to this year’s Oscars telecast. It would not be surprising to see his popularity drop.
Life evaluation: Just 53% of Americans are considered to be “thriving,” according to new Gallup polling. This is the lowest mark in over a year. In June 2021, 59% of Americans – a 14-year high – were estimated to be thriving by Gallup’s measure.
Cryptocurrency: One-fifth of American adults indicated in an NBC News poll that they have used or traded cryptocurrency. Half of all men under the age of 50 say they have at least dabbled in crypto. Polling from the Pew Research Center last year backs up the idea that younger Americans and men are most likely to use this form of currency.
New York governor: He hasn’t announced he is running, but former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would be competitive with current Gov. Kathy Hochul in a potential June Democratic primary. Cuomo, who resigned following a state attorney general investigation that found he sexually harassed 11 women, trailed Hochul by 8 points, 38% to 30%, in a Siena College poll out this week. New York’s filing deadline for candidates is April 7.