Only one-quarter of the American adult public knows the approximate U.S. casualty count in Iraq, down from around 50 percent of adults who knew that figure last year, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The Pew Research Center report also found that media coverage of the war had drastically fallen since last summer.

“Today, just 28% of adults are able to say that approximately 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war,” the report found. “In August 2007, 54% correctly identified the fatality level at that time. In previous polls going back to the spring of 2004, about half of respondents could correctly estimate the number of U.S. fatalities around the time of the survey.”

In the most recent survey, Pew found that more people underestimated than overestimated the number of deaths.

“Awareness of the number of troop deaths has declined substantially among every demographic group, including the well-educated,” the report found.

“College graduates in August were somewhat more likely than other respondents to correctly identify the level of troop deaths. … Now, college graduates are no more likely than other groups to know the number of deaths.”

The Pew report, citing a compilation of news coverage by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, found a correlation between those lower figures and a sharp drop in the amount of war coverage in American media.

According to those figures, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war has fallen from an average of 15 percent of the “news hole” in July 2007 to only 3 percent in February 2008.

“As news coverage of the war has diminished, so too has public interest in news about Iraq. According to Pew’s News Interest Index survey, Iraq was the public’s most closely followed news story in all but five weeks during the first half of 2007,” the report found. “However, it was a much less dominant story between July 2007 and February 2008. Notably, the Iraq war has not been the public’s top weekly story since mid-October.”

For example, during the last month of January, only 6 percent of respondents said the war in Iraq was the story they were most closely following. By contrast, 36 percent said they were most closely following the presidential campaign, while 14 percent said the stock market and 12 percent said the death of actor Heath Ledger.

According to the report’s authors, a total of 1,003 adults were interviewed between Feb. 28 and March 2 and asked a series of multiple-choice questions.

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