July 26, 2012

Little Voter Discomfort with Romney’s Mormon Religion

Section 1: Candidates’ Religions and Views of Mormonism

There has been little change in recent years in the public’s views about Mormonism. Most adults say that Mormonism is very different from their own religious beliefs, and only about half of the public thinks of Mormonism as a Christian religion. Still, the poll finds that most voters who know that Romney is Mormon say they are not bothered by his faith. And even among those who say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith, there is little evidence that the discomfort will sway their votes. Regardless of their comfort level, the overwhelming majority of those who are Republicans or lean Republican say they will vote for Romney, and the overwhelming majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say they will vote for Obama.

Nearly one-in-five voters (17%) say that Obama is Muslim. And 19% of voters say they are uncomfortable with Obama’s religion. Discomfort with Obama’s religion is predominantly concentrated among those who say he is Muslim. And there is a much stronger partisan component in views of Obama’s religion than Romney’s. More than one-third (36%) of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say they are uncomfortable with Obama’s religion, compared with only 7% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters. Differences between Republicans and Democrats in views of Romney’s religion are much smaller by comparison; 10% of Republican voters and 16% of Democratic voters say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith.

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Views of Romney’s Religion

Six-in-ten voters (60%) are able to identify Romney as a Mormon. About one-in-ten voters (9%) say that Romney belongs to some other (non-Mormon) religion and 32% say they do not know what Romney’s religion is.

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The percentage of voters who know that Romney is a Mormon has remained largely unchanged since March (58%). Last November, before the start of the GOP primaries, 48% said Romney is a Mormon.

Seven-in-ten Republican voters know that Romney is a Mormon (70%). Fewer Democrats (54%) and independents (60%) identify Romney’s faith. Awareness has increased across party lines since last November, when 58% of Republicans, 40% of Democrats and 52% of independent registered voters identified Romney as Mormon. Older voters and college graduates are more likely to be aware of Romney’s faith than are younger voters and those with less education.

Among religious groups, atheist and agnostic voters are most knowledgeable about Romney’s religion; 81% identify him as a Mormon. Roughly two-thirds of white Catholic voters (68%), white evangelicals (66%) and white mainline Protestants (66%) know that Romney is a Mormon. Fewer black Protestant registered voters know that Romney is a Mormon (38%).

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Eight-in-ten voters who are aware of Romney’s religion say that they are comfortable with his religious faith (60%), that his religion does not matter to them (19%) or express no opinion (2%). Among voters who know that Romney is Mormon, about one-in-five (19%) say they are uncomfortable with it. This represents 11% of all registered voters, given that many are unaware of his faith.

The general comfort with Romney’s Mormonism spans all major religious groups. About six-in-ten white Catholic voters (62%) and white evangelical voters (59%) who know Romney’s faith say they are comfortable with it, as do 73% of white mainline Protestants.

Among voters with no religious affiliation, 54% who know Romney is Mormon say they are comfortable with his religious faith, while 23% are uncomfortable. Atheist and agnostic voters are among the most inclined to say Romney’s Mormonism makes them uncomfortable (30%).

There are partisan differences in views of Romney’s religion, but large majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents who know Romney’s religion say either that they are comfortable with it or that it does not matter. About a quarter of Democratic voters (23%) say they uncomfortable with Romney’s religion, as do 18% of independents and 15% of Republicans.

Romney’s Religion Not Hurting Him in Presidential Race 

Discomfort with Romney’s Mormonism appears to be of little consequence for the upcoming presidential election. Overwhelming majorities of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who know Romney is Mormon support him, whether they are comfortable with his religion or not. Conversely, about nine-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaners intend to vote for Barack Obama, regardless of their view of Romney’s faith.

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However, Romney supporters who are uncomfortable with his Mormonism are less enthusiastic about his candidacy than those who are not bothered by his faith. Among Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters who express no discomfort with Romney’s Mormonism, 92% plan to vote for Romney, and 42% back him strongly. By comparison, Republican and Republican-leaning voters who are uncomfortable with his faith still prefer Romney over Obama – 93% say they will vote for him – but strong support drops to just 21%.

The same is true among white evangelical voters. White evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly back Romney over Obama regardless of their feelings about his faith. But evangelicals who are comfortable with Romney’s Mormonism express substantially more strong support for his candidacy than those who are uncomfortable with his faith (41% vs. 16%).

Views of Mormonism

There has been little change in views of Mormonism over the course of the 2012 campaign season. Currently, 23% of non-Mormons say that Mormonism and their own faith have a lot in common, while 61% say Mormonism and their own religious beliefs are very different. These figures are similar to previous polls conducted in November 2011 and August 2007.

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Majorities of most religious groups say that Mormonism and their own respective faiths are very different from each other. This point of view is most common among atheists and agnostics, among whom 84% say Mormonism and their own beliefs are very different.

Half of non-Mormons say that Mormonism is a Christian religion, while 31% say it is not a Christian faith, and 19% say they don’t know whether Mormonism is Christian. These figures have not changed since 2007.

The greatest skepticism about whether Mormonism is a Christian faith is among white evangelicals (42% of whom say it is not) and black Protestants (38% of whom say it is not). Majorities of white mainline Protestants, white Catholics and religiously unaffiliated respondents say Mormonism is a Christian religion.

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Views of Obama’s Religion

There has long been significant confusion about Barack Obama’s religious faith. In mid-October of 2008 – just weeks before his election – only 55% of voters identified him as Christian. Most of the rest (31% of registered voters) said they did not know what his religious faith was, and 12% said they thought he was Muslim.

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To the extent that these views have changed over his first term in office, the shift has not been toward greater awareness of Obama’s Christian faith. Currently, 49% of registered voters identify Obama as Christian, while 31% say they don’t know what he is, and 17% misidentify him as Muslim.

The slight rise in the number saying that Obama is a Muslim has been most pronounced among conservative Republicans. The number of conservative Republicans who say Obama is a Muslim has doubled since October 2008 (from 16% to 34%). There has been virtually no change in the share of moderate and liberal Republicans who say Obama is Muslim, or among any Democratic or Democratic-leaning groups.

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Because of the increasing partisan polarization in perceptions of Obama’s faith, a Romney supporter today is much more likely than a McCain voter four years ago to say that Barack Obama is Muslim (30% vs. 17% in October 2008).

Overall, half of registered voters either say they are comfortable with Obama’s religion (45%) or that his religious faith does not matter to them (5%). One-in-five registered voters say they are uncomfortable with Obama’s religion (19%), which is slightly higher than the percent who say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith (13%). Not surprisingly, discomfort with Obama’s religion is concentrated among those who say he is a Muslim. Two-thirds of  registered voters who say Obama is a Muslim say they are uncomfortable with his faith (65%), while eight-in-ten voters who say Obama is Christian say they are comfortable with his religion (82%).

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