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Parsing the public’s and the media’s fascination with Sarah Palin

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With characteristically cool detachment, Nate Silver ANALYZES the American public’s strong views about Sarah Palin and the mainstream media’s coverage of her.

I should add a note of caution about Silver’s chart (above):

You shouldn’t infer from the chart that more than 50 percent of Americans have “very unfavorable” views of either Palin, President Obama or former President George W. Bush. Rather, it’s intended to show that these three political personalities, more than others, arouse strong feelings, positive or negative, among many Americans. The negative views aren’t as widespread as the chart seems to indicate. Silver explains the numbers in his piece.

It’s also worth noting that the chart is based on polling conducted more than a month ago. The numbers are outdated, but the overall point about “strong views” no doubt still pertains.

Here’s an excerpt from Silver’s blog post:

It’s clear that Ms. Palin triggers great interest among the public. When Ms. Palin was first announced as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, her Wikipedia page received 2.5 million views on the day of the announcement, as compared to 0.7 million for Joe Biden. Her most recent book, America By Heart, debuted at #2 on the New York Times’ Best Seller List (just behind Mr. Bush’s). Her reality show got almost 5 million viewers in its debut — a huge number for a cable program — although its viewership subsequently declined.

Coverage of Ms. Palin may also not be quite as disproportionate as it might seem: according to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, only 0.04 percent of the coverage in major newspapers, and 0.2 percent of coverage on the network news, was devoted to Ms. Palin in 2010 — although the figure was much higher for MSNBC (1.6 percent) and for Fox News (1.1 percent).

If news coverage were based on a pure supply-and-demand model — that is, as an exercise in maximizing near-term pageviews or ratings points — it is not clear to me whether there would be less or more coverage of Ms. Palin.  

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