The not inconsiderable work being put into the "prospects for U.S. success in Iraq are improving as a result of the Surge" narrative doesn't seem to be paying the dividends that its sponsors had hoped.
According to a new study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans' interest in the war continues to wane:
News about the Iraq war does not dominate the public's consciousness nearly as much as it did last winter. Currently, just 16% of Americans name the Iraq war as the news story that first comes to mind when asked what has been in the news lately. In December and January, a period when U.S. policy toward Iraq and President Bush's troop surge drew extensive news coverage, far greater numbers named the Iraq war as the first story that came to mind.
More generally, public interest in news about the situation in Iraq is now less than it was earlier this year or in 2006. Since June, about 30% of the public, on average, said they have followed news about the situation in Iraq very closely. In 2006 and the first two months of this year, about 40% on average paid very close attention to Iraq news.
News coverage of Iraq, like public interest in the situation there, is now significantly less than it was at the start of the year. In January, roughly a quarter of the overall newshole (26%) in newspapers, TV newscasts, websites and radio was devoted to news about Iraq. In October, the war received only half as much coverage on average (13%), according to data compiled by the Project for Excellence in Journalism's News Coverage Index.
The diminished press coverage of Iraq is an important factor in the falloff in news interest, given that most Americans say they "come across" war news without looking for it, rather than seeking out news about the Iraq war. Overall, 75% of the public says they come across news about the war when they are not actively seeking it out, compared with just 20% who say they go looking for war news.
Public interest in the Iraq war peaked during the conflict's early phase in the spring of 2003, and began to decline after the Pentagon declared an end to major combat operations. For the year in 2003, 52% of Americans followed news from Iraq very closely on average.
Overall interest fell to 44% in 2004, on average, with the highest level of interest measured in April and May of that year, amid the insurgency in Fallujah and reports of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib (54% very closely). Throughout 2005 and 2006, public attentiveness to the situation in Iraq fluctuated in response to news events, but on average about four-in-ten followed the story very closely in both years.
In the first 10 months of 2007, public interest in Iraq has averaged 33% in the weekly News Interest Index. Interest was significantly greater during January, when Bush announced a major troop increase in Iraq, than it has been in recent weeks. In the current survey, 31% say they are following news about the situation in Iraq very closely, while 20% named it as the story they followed most closely last week.
Although interest in Iraq news has declined this year, it has been the top story in the weekly News Interest Index far more often than any other story. Last week, however, about as many people named the 2008 election as cited the Iraq war as the story they followed most closely (22% vs. 20%). A week earlier, the California wildfires were the dominant story in terms of news interest: roughly four times as many named the wildfires as the week's top story as cited the war in Iraq (46% vs. 12%).