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Bias against Mormonism may not keep Romney out of White House

Posted on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012 — 3:50 PM

New poll takes the pulse of Southern evangelicals

Mitt Romney (Scott Olson / iStock)

New Vanderbilt research shows that though the Republican base is generally biased against Mormonism, Mitt Romney’s religion would not hurt his chances among the GOP faithful as a presidential candidate in the general election.

Using both a nationally representative sample of 1,800 Americans and an additional sample of 600 Southern evangelical Christians conducted in early January by the national polling firm YouGov, researchers John Geer, Brett Benson and Jennifer Merolla found that there is clear bias against Mormons among Republicans, in general, and Southern evangelicals, in particular.

Bias against Mormons

  • 20 percent of Republicans’ nationally would not vote for a “qualified Mormon” for president.
  • 31 percent of Southern evangelical Republicans would not vote for a “qualified Mormon” for president.

“If you ask similar questions of Republicans about voting for qualified women or African Americans, the share drops to less than one percent. So there is more bias against Mormons than many other groups,” said Geer, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt.

Bias will not hurt Romney

Yet this bias does not appear to hurt Romney in the general election.

“No one would expect these potential voters to turn and support President Obama,” said Geer. “The real fear is that these folks, especially the evangelical wing, might just stay home in light of their concerns about Mormonism.”

When Geer asked poll respondents who they would vote for in the general election, they were given the option to say they would stay at home rather than vote.  Among Southern evangelicals:

  • 85 percent vote for Romney
  • 3 percent vote for Obama
  • 12 percent stay home

Geer said that 12 percent may seem high, but actually it is not. “The same pattern holds for current GOP primary candidates Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry – and Perry was once considered the darling of Republican evangelicals,” Geer said.

Romney draws the same level of support in the general election as Gingrich or Perry among those Republicans who have the most doubt about the former governor of Massachusetts – Southern evangelicals.

GOP base dislikes Obama more than Mormonism

Why does this bias have little impact in the general election?  The Republican base simply dislikes President Obama more than they dislike Mormonism.  In the poll, respondents were asked to give their take on candidates on a “feeling thermometer.”

Feeling Thermometer

  • How Southern evangelicals feel about Obama – 11 degrees
  • How Southern evangelicals over 60 feel about Obama – 6 degrees
  • How Southern evangelicals feel about atheists – 19 degrees
  • How Southern evangelicals feel about liberals – 21 degrees

The unhappiness with President Obama manifests itself in other ways. In the poll, 53 percent of Southern evangelical Republicans agreed with the notion that Obama is a Muslim and nearly 75 percent of those were in the important voting age bloc of 60 years old or older.

“This is good news for Romney and bad news for those who have been arguing Romney cannot rally the GOP base,” said Geer. “He can in fact rally the troops for the fall election. And he can thank President Obama for that.”

For more political research, visit Vanderbilt’s election website, ElectionVU.

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