All together now. It’s time to recite one of the semi-official GetReligion mantras: “Politics is real. Religion is, well, not all that real (or words to that effect).”
At the heart of the whole “The press … just doesn’t get religion” syndrome is fact (I’m wonder if anyone would dispute this) that politics the most important subject in the world of news, according to the people who run our culture’s most powerful newsrooms.
More often than not, religion news gets major coverage — on television especially — when (a) religion affects politics or (b) religion-news facts and trends are debated in ways that, to many journalists, resemble politics (lots of Catholic hierarchy coverage fits into this mold).
With this in mind, let’s look at a recent NBC News story that ran under this sprawling double-decker headline:
'A deep and boiling anger': NBC/WSJ poll finds a pessimistic America despite current economic satisfaction
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 70 percent of Americans say they're angry at the political establishment
Here is the overture, which centers on the horrors at the heart of the Donald Trump era:
WASHINGTON — The political and cultural upheaval of the last four years has divided the country on ever-hardening partisan and generational lines, but one feeling unites Americans as much as it did before the 2016 election.
They’re still angry. And still unsettled about the future.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that — despite Americans’ overall satisfaction with the state of the U.S. economy and their own personal finances — a majority say they are angry at the nation’s political and financial establishment, anxious about its economic future, and pessimistic about the country they’re leaving for the next generation.
So what is the most newsworthy angle in this poll-driven story? What is the most shocking information in this package of poll numbers?
It would appear that the biggest news here is -- #Surprise — politics and the political implications of the latest numbers about the state of the U.S. economy.
This leads to questions about why Americans are so angry, these days, and many can be described as living in a state of despair about the state of things. Here’s some numbers on that:
Republicans report feeling somewhat less angry than they were almost four years ago, but that optimism has been offset by an uptick in anger from other groups typically more aligned with the Democratic Party.
In 2015, 39 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats said a feeling of anger at the political establishment defined them “very well.” Now, it’s 29 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of Democrats — a 10-point swing for each party, in opposite directions.
Those who are more likely to say feelings of anger describe them “very well” since 2015 include women under 50 (48 percent, up 10 points since 2015), African Americans (46 percent, up 5 points) and Hispanics (49 percent, up 11 points).
OK, are there any old people in the GetReligion audience at this moment in time?
OK, folks other than me who have been around for a few decades worth of American politics!
Raise your hands if you are surprised that lots of Americans are angry about politics. How many of you are surprised that people are angry? How many of you remember the Richard Nixon era? How many of you remember the Robert Bork U.S. Supreme Court hearings? How many of you remember how angry the left was during the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush eras? Is there anyone in the house who remembers how angry the Religious Right was during the Bill and Hillary Clinton era?
I have no doubts that the anger we seeing right now is real. That’s an important story.
But how NEW and unique is this anger?
But, hey, we are talking about politics — which functions as a religion in lots of newsrooms.
Now, check out the following information that ran at the very end of the NBC News report. Read this carefully and imagine some headlines you could write about this:
… Tthose who say that “patriotism” is very important slid from 70 percent two decades ago to 61 percent now. The share citing religion decreased even more, from 62 percent in 1998 to 48 percent now.
Those changes come amid a stark generational divide over which values are seen as most important.
Among those who are either Millennials or Generation Z (ages 18-38), only 42 percent rate patriotism as a “very important” value, while 79 percent of those over 55 say the same.
Just 30 percent of the younger group cite religion or belief in God as very important, while 67 percent of the older group does. And just 32 percent of those under 38 years old call having children very important, while 54 percent of those over 55 agree.
I don’t know about you, but I am never surprised when Americans are angry about politics.
I am surprised, however, that Americans — young Americans in particular — are this angry and despondent about God and even the wisdom of having children.
So here is my question: Are the political numbers the most newsworthy angle in this rather depressing set of poll numbers? Why did journalists think that these numbers were the ones that mattered the most?