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Jan. 18, 2008, 11:36 AM
Bias against Mitt Romney’s religion is one of the reasons that the tag “flip-flopper” sticks with the former Massachusetts governor but not his Republican opponents, according to Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer. “There is no question that Romney has changed his positions on some issues, but so have some of the other candidates,” Geer said. “Why does the label stick to Romney but not his opponents? At least some of the answer lies in Romney’s Mormon beliefs.”
Geer and colleagues Brett Benson of Vanderbilt and Jennifer Merolla of Claremont Graduate University designed an Internet survey to assess bias against Mormons, how best to combat it and its potential impact on the nomination process and general election campaign.
“We find that of those who accuse Romney of flip-flopping, many admit it is Romney’s Mormonism and not his flip-flopping that is the real issue,” Benson said. “Our survey shows that 26 percent of those who accuse Romney of flip-flopping also indicate that Mormonism, not flip-flopping, is their problem with Romney.” Benson noted that the pattern is especially strong for conservative Evangelicals. According to the poll, 57 percent of them have a bias against Mormons.
The poll, which was conducted by Polimetrix, included an oversample of Southern Evangelicals that Geer said measured bias with far more precision than previous efforts. The survey shows that 50 percent of conservative Evangelicals evaluate a moderate Christian candidate more positively than a conservative Mormon candidate.
The study’s findings suggest that criticizing Romney for flip-flopping is an effective campaign strategy because it sticks with two different groups: those who are genuinely concerned about Romney’s shifts on certain issues and those who use the label as cover for the fact that they do not want to vote for a Mormon for president.
“As the campaign continues to unfold, these data become increasingly relevant as the Republicans choose a presidential nominee,” Geer said.
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