Why have Americans and the news media lost interest in the coronavirus pandemic?

By Kent R. Kroeger (June 15, 2020)

U.S. Cable News Network Coverage of the Coronavirus Pandemic (Source: GDELT Project)

Declining media and public interest in the coronavirus pandemic

The current coronavirus pandemic is stark evidence at how hard it is to keep people’s attention.

Source: GDELT Project
Source: GDELT Project
Source: GDELT Project
Source: Google Trends

Possible Reason #1: People have shorter attention spans

Possible Reason #2: More compelling events (e.g., the 2020 Election, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, etc. ) have replaced the pandemic in people’s minds

I’ve already discussed these two possible explanations in the above discussion about attention spans and the importance of compelling content in keeping people engaged.

Possible Reason #3: Public interest follows the news media’s interest

Insight is gained when Google-search data on the coronavirus is overlaid with the cable TV news and online news (see Figure 5). The three data series track closely together, with a Granger causality test indicating changes in cable TV news coverage are more predictive of changes in public interest (Google-search behavior) than the other way around.

Data sources: GDELT Project, Google Trends

Possible Reason #4: The coronavirus pandemic is in decline

Could the objective decline in the coronavirus pandemic explain the falling interest by both the news media and the public?

Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE)

Possible Reason #5: Americans are weary of negative news

In a November 2019 survey of more than 12,000 U.S. adults, Pew Research documented a high level of ‘negative news fatigue’ by Americans.

The coronavirus pandemic has produced an unprecedented level of public interest, regardless if that interest has since softened

Google searches on the coronavirus reached unprecedented levels in the U.S. and across the globe in March and April.

Source: Google Trends
Source: Google Trends

Final thoughts

I left one possible explanation for this coronavirus interest decline out of the above discussion, in part, because it is more of a corollary to Possible Reason #3 (Public interest follows media interest). There is no question that the world economy has contracted due to the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. is now officially in a recession, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Thus, there is an economic incentive for economic and incumbent political elites to desire moving past this worldwide health crisis. To dwell on it longer than necessary can only hurt the economy further.

I am a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion (You can contact me at: kroeger98@yahoo.com)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store