Everyone knows what Sen. Barack Obama said about small-town Pennsylvania voters at a fundraiser in my native city, or at least everyone who listens to the news or reads a newspaper. For those who don't know, click here. Obama's remarks were fairly well publicized. After Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary, religion should have been a natural storyline for reporters. The Catholic vote, the highly religious vote, the secular vote -- these topics would seem to have been fertile ground for reporters to plough.
Yet coverage by the big dailies often featured religious ghosts. Take this story in The Los Angeles Times. Reporter Faye Fiore focused on the strong support by voters in Scranton for Hillary Clinton -- and used them as a synecdoche for larger constituencies:
... (The) Scranton voter is a crucial Democratic constituency Obama would need to win in a November matchup with the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. And for all the Clinton worship that was going on Tuesday, there were signs that Obama had made inroads, though some felt uncomfortable acknowledging it.
Fiore implied that the Scranton voter is a (white) working-class voter. Yet it's fair to conclude that the typical Scranton voter belongs to another category, and no not someone who works under Michael Scott. After all, the city is heavily Irish, Italian, and Polish and has as many high schools affiliated with this religious denomination as it does public ones. If it's any consolation, a Catholic ghost also haunts two stories in The New York Times (this one and this one).
Not all newspapers followed the Times' lead. The Washington Post noted that Clinton defeated Obama by 44 points among white Catholic Democrats in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned that Obama did poorly among Jewish voters.
Yet few papers broke from the pack, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. No other newspapers examined voters' religious observance or affiliation. No papers examined Obama's victory in Amish counties such as Lancaster.
The dearth of coverage is odd. Obama's statement about religion and voters got major coverage. Yet few reporters examined whether voters voted based on religious beliefs or commitments.