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Pew study finds Typhoon Haiyan stirs less interest in the US than other disasters

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Are Americans burned out on disasters in far-off places, or is there something else that's causing a marked lack of interest in this month's deadly Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines?

It's most likely a combination of factors, say researchers from Pew's Center for the People & the Press, whose new national survey suggests that the aftermath of the storm has drawn less attention from the American public than other major international disasters in recent years.

According to the Pew Research report, only about 32 percent of Americans  surveyed — about one in three — said they were "very closely following news" about the storm that devastated the Philippines on Nov. 8, killing nearly 4,000 people at last count and leaving countless others homeless. Many said they followed other international disasters more closely. From the report:

By comparison, 55% of the public closely followed the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, 58% followed the tsunami that struck coastlines around the Indian Ocean at the end of 2004, and 60% followed the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Why the lower numbers, especially when the United States has such a long relationship with the Philippines and a history of Filipino immigration? Michael Dimock, director of Pew's Center for the People & the Press, says one important factor has to do with the timing of the typhoon. It struck during a time when domestic news — chiefly, the problems surrounding the rollout of Obamacare — held the national spotlight.

"I think that in the midst of that very internal focus at the moment, there is just less space for a story like that to really grab the public's attention," Dimock said.

In Pew's national survey of 1,013 adults conducted Nov. 14-17, Typhoon Haiyan tied with economic news as the second-most closely followed story; the most closely followed story was the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Related: Updated Typhoon Coverage and Resources

Dimock added that while there may be an element of disaster burnout, it doesn't necessarily bode a trend of disengagement in the American public. Other disasters — for example, a deadly 2008 earthquake in China — drew a similarly modest level of interest.

Whatever the cause, it's not great news for relief efforts. Only 14 percent of Americans surveyed said they had donated to typhoon relief efforts. Seventeen percent said they planned to, but 67 percent said they "do not think they will donate right now." There was more interest in donations following the disasters of recent years in Japan, Haiti and the Indian Ocean, and especially following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Dimock said the interest in Typhoon Haiyan was not significantly higher in any given part of the country, which was divided into four regions for the survey. Donation interest in the West was at the same level as nationwide. 

Complete results of the national survey are available on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press website.

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