A lot went down in 2012. Here are the top 15 stories that Americans paid the most attention to this year. The results are based on polls from the Pew Research Center, the producers of this timeline.

The American public’s news interests were overwhelmingly focused on domestic stories this year. In fact, The U.S. consulate attack in Libya was the only foreign event that made the top 15 list, according to the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index, which tracks popularity of stories on a weekly basis throughout the year. Not surprisingly, the presidential election took the number one spot, followed by the December school shooting in Connecticut. Hurricane Sandy was a close third.

Wide interest gap among different racial and age groups

Certain major stories had very large racial divides in interest level. Most notably, 70 percent of black adults – as compared to only 30 percent of whites – closely followed the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Meanwhile, 43 percent of whites polled felt that the Martin case received too much media coverage.

There were also a number of large age-related interest gaps in the year’s top stories. The interest level among people over 50 in the Supreme Court health care ruling, Hurricane Sandy, the fiscal cliff, and the Libya attack was nearly double that of younger adults. Those under 50 were most interested in the Connecticut and Colorado shootings, the presidential election, and to a lesser extent, gas prices.

Big stories that got little attention

There were, of course, plenty of significant stories in 2012 that received relatively little attention from American audiences. Less than 20 percent of the public followed the civil war in Syria at any point. The European debt crisis, which continues to have major implications for the U.S. economy, also attracted only minor interest. Perhaps more surprisingly, only a mere 8 percent of the public followed news about the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

And while science geeks might have popped the champagne after the discovery of Higgs boson, the subatomic particle thought to contain the basic building blocks of the universe, only about 12 percent of the public seemed to pay it to much mind.

The 15 Most Popular News Stories of 2012 28 January,2013Matthew Green


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mgreen@kqed.org; Twitter: @MGreenKQED

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor