A recently released Pew Center survey found Americans extraordinarily disengaged from news surrounding the 2014 midterm elections. While the poll results are notable, what is capturing Americans’ attention may be even more telling: the Ebola virus, and not the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS), garners more attention.
The poll, released Wednesday, found that only 15% of Americans are following the 2014 midterm elections “very closely.” While interest in midterm elections is usually significantly below the interest in presidential election years, Pew found at least 20% of Americans harboring the same amount of interest in the past two elections (21% of Americans in 2006 and a significant 25% in 2010).
Positing alternative news stories capturing the American imagination, Pew found that Americans are closely following both the spread of Ebola and military gains made by the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Specifically, 36% of Americans are following the spread of Ebola within and outside of Africa, while 31% are following American military action against ISIS. Additionally, 21% say they are following ongoing embarrassing news stories regarding the Secret Service.
As Pew noted, this suggested that twice the number of Americans care about Ebola than they do about the midterm elections. Also, significantly more concern exists about Ebola than the concern in 2009 about the international Swine Flu outbreak.
Such interest could be devastating for voters’ public opinion of the White House, given the results from other polls specifically asking about Ebola. For example, an NBC News poll released on Thursday revealed that 58% of Americans want the federal government to ban travel from West Africa into the United States to prevent the spread of the disease. President Obama has categorically stated through the White House Press Office that he is not considering the possibility of banning those flights, instead opting for a “whole government” approach to the problem. Perhaps relatedly, only 20% of Americans have said they have a “great deal” of confidence in Obama’s ability to handle the Ebola crisis.
President Obama is also battling disillusion specific to the black American community. A YouGov/Economist poll showed that a whopping 59% of black Americans believe that a cure for Ebola would exist if the disease were to have originated in Europe or the United States; generally, 62% of Americans believe “more would have been done” to stop Ebola had the disease originated anywhere but Africa.
That is not to say that Americans would have more faith in the President had they answered that their interests rested more with the developing situation in the Middle East. Polls show little confidence in President Obama’s ability to eliminate the Islamic State, as well. In a poll that NBC News and The Wall Street Journal released in September, 68% of Americans answered that they did not believe President Obama could defeat the Islamic State. Yet more Americans–72%–said they believed President Obama would break his promise not to place “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria.