Romney’s Religion Problem

by John Hood

After Rick Perry’s wobbly performance shifted some momentum back to Mitt Romney, conservatives began another round of speculation about his appeal in the early-primary states. It seems that his religious affiliation remains a serious problem for him.

USA Today reported on latest Gallup poll question:

Although three of four Americans say they would support a presidential candidate who is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Gallup Poll finds that 22% say they would not.

That figure has not changed much since Gallup started measuring opinion on this subject in 1967. One difference comes by party: While 27% of Democrats say they would not support a Mormon for president, that figure is 20% for Republicans.

Those rates may not sound like much, but they could tip a close election — and are likely to be somewhat understated because some poll respondents would be reluctant to admit to anti-Mormon bias. Another recent survey by pollster Gary Lawrence, himself a Mormon, confirmed the bias, but Lawrence offered a more positive spin:

Lawrence’s poll also asked voters to what extent they would consider voting for a person of a specific religion.  Five times as many voters would never consider voting for a Mormon (20%) as compared to a Catholic or a Baptist (4%).  As for support, 50% would definitely consider a Catholic and 47% a Baptist, but only 30% would definitely consider a Mormon.

However, while such results have been touted as an uphill battle for Mormons running for office, other questions demonstrate these generic measures may not be that important.  

“If religion played a big role in the vote decision, more people could correctly identify candidates’ religions,” Lawrence said. “While 85% of voters have heard of Mitt Romney, only 41% know he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka Mormon, despite considerable publicity.  Only 11% and 6% respectively know that Jon Huntsman, Jr. and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are also Mormons.”  

Similarly, the survey found that 7% of voters correctly identify Michelle Bachman’s evangelical Lutheranism, and merely 1% know Rick Perry is a Methodist.  Further confusion: 17% still think Barack Obama is a Muslim.

“Those aren’t numbers that suggest passionate interest,” Lawrence said.

Perhaps, but by Election Day a significant majority of voters will know Romney is a Mormon. I don’t think that should matter one bit. But it might.