The media is drastically overplaying former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's influence on the national political conversation, suggests a new study of the public's news-watching patterns.
The Pew Research Center released a public opinion survey on Wednesday showing that, of the recent news stories people followed most closely, the one-time vice presidential candidate and her book tour have garnered very little sustained interest.
Only two percent of respondents said that news of Palin and her new book, "Going Rogue," was the story they followed "most closely" this past week. Only ten percent said they were following it "very closely." Compare that to the 41 percent who said that the health care reform debate was their top story and 18 percent who said the same about the swine flu epidemic.
Pushing the point a bit further, Pew discovered that: "Most Americans (52%) say they have been hearing too much about Palin, while 26% say they have been hearing the right amount and 13% say they have been hearing too little about her. Far more say they are hearing too much about Palin now than in July, after her surprise resignation as Alaska's governor (38%)."
The findings reflect just how far apart the public and the press are when it comes to news coverage. Certainly there seems to be a greater appetite out there for substantive reporting on health care -- as well as less interest in wall-to-wall Palin coverage -- than conventional wisdom dictates.
That said, the numbers should be taken with some qualifiers. For starters, not all substantive news was of public interest. Only four percent of respondents said that President Obama's trip to Asia was their top story (though time differences may have had something to do with that).
Moreover, the findings are likely to be tilted by the fact that those surveyed may be more inclined to say they follow serious news rather than the tabloid-like material on Palin. Certainly, it has been widely documented that coverage of the conservative firebrand is doing wonders for the traffic of various news websites.