Public interest in Zimmerman trial lagged in advance of verdict

If you tuned in to cable news, read a news website or ventured into social media, it might have seemed like the world was captivated by little other than the George Zimmerman trial.

But a new poll suggests that public interest lagged in advance of the jury’s decision in the case. Information from the Pew Research Center for Politics and the Press finds that 26 percent of the U.S. public was following news of the trial in advance of the July 13 verdict in which Zimmerman was found not guilty.

Conversely, in March 2012, 35 percent of respondents told Pew that they were following news of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death when it first came under the national spotlight.

But social media was one area in which attention to the trial spiked. For example, on the day after the verdict was reached, a full 44 percent of respondents said they heard about the verdict on Facebook or Twitter.

Interest in the trial split sharply between African-American and Caucasian viewers. Twenty-one percent of black viewers said they watched “almost all” of the trial coverage, compared with just 5 percent of white respondents. Sixty-seven percent of black viewers said they watched some of the trial live, while 38 percent of white viewers said they tuned in to live coverage.

Overall, 56 percent of black respondents said they “very closely” paid attention to the trial, compared with 20 percent of white respondents who said "very closely."

Another interesting point found in the polling data isthat despite the heated national discussion about the trial, actual public interest in the trial trails behind other past high-profile cases in which race was an issue at hand.

For example, the riots following the Los Angeles police officers who were found not guilty in the Rodney King case was followed “very closely” by 70 percent of the public. Forty-eight percent also said they closely followed the O.J. Simpson trial, which was referred to at the time by some people as the “trial of the century.”

So, if white viewers were not closely tuned in to the Zimmerman trial, what news were they focused on? The Pew study finds that nearly as many white viewers (24%) say they were as closely following news of the San Francisco airport plane crash as they were the Zimmerman trial (26%). Eighteen percent said they were closely following the immigration debate, and 16 percent were following the case of Edward Snowden.

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