December 14, 2012

The Media, Religion and the 2012 Campaign for President

The Role of the Press in shaping the Religion Narrative

Why the disparity between print and other sectors? One possible explanation is that the relative lack of major events or controversies tied to religion may have dampened interest among cable television and talk radio outlets. Web and network television coverage also tended to be somewhat more event-driven. Many of the newspaper stories, by contrast, tended to probe religion even when there was no specific news event triggering the story.

Indeed, more than half (58%) of front-page religion coverage in newspapers was initiated by reporters choosing to raise the issue of religion, rather than reacting to statements by  candidates, comments by religious figures, polls or other outside triggers. That figure is noticeably higher than the share of all religion-related campaign stories in major media as a whole that were self-generated by a reporter, anchor or media commentator (47%).

The candidates themselves were responsible for triggering 35% of religion references in news reports. That figure includes actions and statements by nine presidential candidates in the primaries and general election as well as the two vice presidential candidates. Romney triggered only 8% of religion references, and Obama just 5%. The seven GOP primary candidates who ultimately withdrew from the race and Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, triggered 22% of the religion references.

Other references to religion in campaign coverage were triggered by a mix of polls (7%), events (8%) and statements made by religious figures (7%).