November 20, 2008
Religion Made up 4% of Campaign Media Coverage
Religion-related campaign stories made up 4 percent of overall media coverage, the Pew Center found.
The most religion-related coverage revolved around the rumors that Obama is a Muslim, followed by the focus on Sarah Palin's religion and family.
Meanwhile, there was little attempt by the news media during the campaign to comprehensively examine the role of faith in the political values and policies of the candidates, save for those of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
And when religion-focused campaign stories were covered by the mainstream press, often the context was negative, controversial or focused on a perceived political problem.
Key findings include:
* While [religion coverage] was less than coverage of the Iraq war (6%) or the economic crisis (9%), it was more prominent than coverage of energy issues (2%) and the environment (less than 1%), and equal to coverage of the Republican National Convention (4%). During the general election, storylines related to religion received as much attention by the press as those that focused on race (4%).
* In all, Obama was the lead newsmaker in more than half (53%) of the religion-focused campaign stories. By contrast, McCain was the focus of just 9%. Palin (19%) was more tied to religion than her running mate, though less so than Obama. Examination of Palin’s family values, church background and related issues made up one-fourth of the newshole devoted to religion in the campaign.
* The single biggest religion storyline in the general election phase of the campaign centered on rumors that the Democratic nominee, who is a mainline Protestant Christian, is a Muslim (30%). An additional 5% of the religion-focused coverage dealt with evangelical broadcaster James Dobson’s criticism of Obama’s positions.
* Attention to clerics Jeremiah Wright, Michael Pfleger and John Hagee alone made up 11% of religion coverage in the general election.
* The Aug. 16 Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, moderated by Warren at his California megachurch, drew brief but intense media coverage. Still, that was enough to have that one event account for 11% of religion-focused campaign coverage in the general election.
* Culture war issues were not a driving narrative of this election cycle. Together, social issues – including abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research – composed 9% of religion-focused campaign news but less than 1% of campaign news overall.