Mitt Romney's candidacy: Would you be comfortable voting for a Mormon president?
Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week, Dr. Baker is discussing important findings from the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2011 American Values Survey.
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.
What does the “Mormon Question” mean for the viability of Mitt Romney’s candidacy?
You might be surprised, based on a just-released report from the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2011 American Values Survey. I won’t give it away right here — but I will tell you at the end of today’s post. I want you to think about this for a moment.
All this week we’ll cover some of the most fascinating — and possibly surprising — findings from this annual survey.
What is this so-called Mormon Question?
At issue is whether Americans would vote for a candidate, such as Romney, who is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There’s also a Muslim Question, an Atheist Question and even an Evangelical Question. There used to be a Black Question, but Obama’s election answered that one.
So, let’s get right to the point: Would you be comfortable or uncomfortable with a Mormon president? If you feel comfortable with the idea, then you are in the majority. Just over half of voters (53 percent) said they would be somewhat or very comfortable with a Mormon as president. But if you said uncomfortable, you also have plenty of company — 42 percent said they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable.
More Democrats feel uncomfortable (50 percent) than Republicans (36 percent) or Independents (38 percent) with the idea of a Mormon president. But even more Democrats (70 percent) and more Republicans (80 percent) are uncomfortable with an atheist in the highest office. A majority of Independents (56 percent) would also be uncomfortable with a nonbeliever in the Oval Office. Religion is a still a prerequisite for election to the American presidency.
Ok, what does this mean for Mitt Romney?
The answer is: We don’t know yet. At this point, only 42 percent of Americans correctly identify his religion as Mormon, according to the PRRI survey. This figure hasn’t changed since the summer. The only group with a majority who correctly identify his religion is white evangelical Protestants — and it's a slim majority of that group within the poll (53 percent).
Americans with higher levels of formal education are more likely to correctly identify the former Massachusetts governor’s religious affiliation, compared to those with lower levels. A majority of Republicans (52 percent) can identify Romney’s religious affiliation, but only a little more than a third of Democrats also know (36 percent).
This translates into a lot of uncertainty about what the Mormon Question means for Romney’s candidacy. If he wins the Republican primaries and becomes the GOP candidate, he will come under more scrutiny and more Americans would be able to correctly identify his religion. For some that knowledge would turn into a "no" for Romney, but for others it would turn into "yes." And, one might hope, for a large number of Americans, his qualifications for office would be all that really matters.
Would you be comfortable or uncomfortable with a Mormon president?
Will there be a time when religion is no longer a factor in elections?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.ï»¿
Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook.