The latest round of news about Barack Obama and his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright dominated campaign news coverage last week. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's (PEJ) Campaign Coverage Index, 42% of all campaign coverage last week dealt with the Rev. Wright controversy.
Wright's comments are by far the biggest political event of the campaign to date: fully 62% say they have heard a lot or a little about Rev. Wright's recent speeches. As a point of comparison, just 36% say they heard a lot or a little about another campaign development last week - the calls by Hillary Clinton and John McCain to temporarily suspend the federal gasoline tax.
Most Americans (59%) think that news organizations have overcovered the Wright controversy. About two-thirds of Democrats (66%) and nearly as many independents (59%) say that news organizations have devoted too much coverage to Wright's recent speeches. But as many as half of Republicans agree that Wright's comments have received too much coverage.
Obama was by far the most visible presidential candidate last week; 57% say Obama is the candidate they heard the most about in the news recently while just 29% named Clinton. McCain barely registered with the public last week as only 2% said he was the candidate they had heard the most about.
By the end of the week, a quarter of all Americans, including 26% of Democrats, said their opinion of Obama had become less favorable in recent days; fewer than half as many (11%) said their opinion of the Illinois senator had become more favorable.
People who said their impression of Obama had changed in recent days were asked if any specific events had caused them to change their view of him. Overall, a majority of those who said their opinion of Obama had become more negative volunteered a specific incident, with the Wright controversy mentioned most frequently (by 60% of those who cited a specific event). Descriptions included "the debacle concerning the Rev. Wright," "the mess with his preacher" and "Jeremiah's opinions."
According to exit polls in North Carolina and Indiana, roughly half of the primary voters in those states said Obama's relationship with Wright was an important factor in their vote. Those who said this was important voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. And exit polls in both states found late deciders backing Clinton to a greater extent than those who made up their minds earlier.
Read the full report Wright Controversy Top Campaign Event So Far on the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Web site.