It’s far from a scientific sample, but I noticed a lot of people in my Twitter feed over the past few weeks lamenting a lack of thorough media coverage surrounding the political crisis in Egypt. Certainly, when the George Zimmerman trial reached its apex, one might have assumed things in Egypt had reached a peaceful resolution, given how little news could be found in the mainstream US media.
It turns out that media companies are pretty astute at knowing what their audiences want to see, even if it doesn’t jibe with the smaller but more vocal Twitterati. Turn on your local network news for five minutes and you’ll figure out the formula: If people aren’t interested in a given topic, the media doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to change our minds.
What about Egypt?
Egypt seems to have all the makings of a sensational news topic, with its mass protests, violence, and intrigue. But do Americans really care?
We surveyed over 2,000 US adults over the past few days to gauge how concerned they were about the crisis in Egypt. Here’s how they answered:
Over two-thirds of Americans have some degree of concern, with a full 30 percent characterizing themselves as Very Concerned. Thirty-two percent don’t seem to care at all. When we looked at demographics, we found that women were much more likely than men to be Very Concerned, as were people over age 45, and those with an advanced education.
This doesn’t tell us much, though, without comparing Egypt to other issues. So, we looked at 19 other issues we’ve studied using the exact same question format, like this one:
Most topics we follow on a daily basis (for our long-term tracking questions, we looked at results over the past 3 months), but a few issues were timely, like last December’s Fiscal Cliff. We included a mixture of both for contrast.
To develop a consistent “Concern Index,” we took the percentage of people who said “Very Concerned” and multiplied it by two, then added the percentage of people who said “Somewhat Concerned” (this did NOT take a Carnegie Mellon-trained data scientist). Based on this system, the crisis in Egypt would have a score of 98 ((30% x2) + 38%). Income inequality achieves a score of 115.
Now let’s look at a litany of other issues to see how the crisis in Egypt compares:
What Stands Out?
Let’s first address the elephant in the room. No matter how we sliced our numbers, the public health implications of texting-while-driving (“TWD”) produced the highest concern score. These were all large samples sizes, over 5,000 respondents, reweighted to match the full US adult population. So we can’t argue with the numbers. TWD is a big deal to a lot of people.
The next items on the list should come as little surprise. Health Care and Public Education rank slightly above the Economy and Jobs, but within a thin margin of error. Consumer Privacy has surged in recent months, making it to #7 on the list, just behind Gas and Energy Prices.
It’s interesting to note that issues like last year’s Fiscal Cliff and Bullying in Schools rank so highly above Crime and Violence and Climate Change among the general population. Clearly, these numbers might be different among respondents across the socio-economic and ideological spectrum.
We don’t find the Crisis in Egypt until #17, ranking more highly than only Concussions in the NFL and last summer’s LIBOR interest rate scandal. These are niche topics, to say the least.
If the mainstream media is providing little coverage of the Eqypt dispute, they may know what they’re doing. Our data makes a pretty convincing case that most consumers are concerned more about issues that impact their everyday lives, like failing schools, out-of-control health care costs, tight job markets and, most importantly, that college kid in the car in front of them sending a text to his girlfriend.