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Religion accounted for 4 percent of election news coverage

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 21, 2008 | 1:03 pm

Is 4 percent a lot? It seemed to me throughout the presidential election that religion hogged the conversation. Religion stories from the campaign trail included the Democrats finding religion, John McCain showcasing his and selecting Sarah Palin for hers, Mitt Romney defending Mormonism, Mike Huckabee promoting Christian conservatism, everybody fighting for the Jewish vote ... I could go on and on.

Admittedly, there is likely some bias here. This is The God Blog. But I’m a bit surprised by the findings of a survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that found that only 4 percent of election reporting involved religion—and the primary subject, attracting nearly a third of the coverage, was not how the candidates’ beliefs shaped their worldview but whether Barack Obama was a Muslim. Here’s a short summary of Pew’s findings:

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.

In all, religion was a significant but not overriding storyline in the media coverage of the 2008 campaign. But in a campaign in which an Obama victory would give the U.S. its first black president, religion received as much coverage in the media as race.

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