American Sniper the top public choice for best picture

February 19, 2015, 2:38 PM GMT+0

American Sniper is the top choice for this year's Best Picture award, but only a fifth of Americans say they are following the Oscars

Americans claim they aren’t paying too much attention to the Academy Awards – just one in five say they are following the Oscars even fairly closely. But in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll those who are following the Awards give the Academy high marks on choosing good nominees. And the picks of those who are paying attention more closely reflect the critics’ choices for the Oscar.

Overall public opinion hasn’t changed much from the Economist/YouGov Poll of a month ago, taken just after the nominees were announced. Then, some of the public reacted to the controversy over the lack of diversity in the acting, directing and writing nominees. In this week’s poll, unlike the poll last month, there is a racial difference in the assessment of the Academy. African-Americans are much more closely divided than whites are over the job done by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in selecting nominees. Whites give the Academy a good rating by about two to one; blacks are split. And there is also a difference by age, with young adults more positive than older Americans.

There was less of an age divide last month.

Oscar-attentive Americans go to the movies more: 45% of them say they see a movie in a theater at least once a month, compared with only 21% overall. But like the rest of the public, more prefer watching movies in the comfort of their own home, rather than going out. And being attentive to the Awards doesn’t necessarily mean seeing most of the Oscar-nominated movies. In fact, a third of those who are following the Oscars very or fairly closely admit they a have seen none of the films nominated in the Best Picture or the acting awards categories.

Overall, a majority of the public admits not seeing any of the nominees, although that figure has dropped from nearly two-thirds a month ago. “American Sniper,” “Gone Girl” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” have been seen by 17%, 15% and 14% of the public overall; one in four of those following the Awards have seen each of those movies. Viewership of “American Sniper” doubled from what it had been a month ago.

When it comes to picking winners, the public overall rates the actors it knows most highly, while those paying attention to the Awards are somewhat more likely to echo the critics’ choices. There is no consensus among the public overall as to who should take home the Oscar for Best Actress (last month Reese Witherspoon led); although Julianne Moore of “Still Alice” is the favorite of those following the awards, there is support for nearly all the nominees.

As for Best Actor, Bradley Cooper of “American Sniper” leads with both groups, although his lead over “Birdman” actor Michael Keaton is less among the attentive public than it is among the public overall. And while there have been small changes in preference for the Best Actress winner from a month ago, Cooper leads among the public by about the same margin now as he did last month.

Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” receives nearly twice the support from the attentive public as he does overall.

For Best Supporting Actress and Actor, the Oscar-attentive public and the public overall agree. Both groups choose the most well-known of the actors nominated. Meryl Streep is the first choice of both groups for her work in “Into the Woods;” Robert Duvall the choice for Best Supporting Actor for “The Judge.”

Those paying attention show only minor differences. However, they are three times as likely as the overall public to choose J.K. Simmons, from “Whiplash,” for the Best Supporting Actor award. So far this season Simmons has won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for his performance, and many think he will win the Oscar as well.

As far as Best Picture goes, “American Sniper” leads, with “Selma’ in second place. For African-Americans, opinions are reversed: 30% choose “Selma,” 14% “American Sniper.”

See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.