A new Gallup poll released today found that 22% of Americans say that they would not vote for a presidential candidate if he/she is a Mormon.
The Gallup poll found that American voters’ bias against Mormon candidates remains steady. Twenty two percent of those surveyed said that they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. The bias is steady across all party lines. Eighteen percent of Republicans, 19% of Independents, and 27% of Democratic respondents said that they would not vote for a Mormon. (I suspect some partisanship is at play, because some Republicans may be accepting the fact that Mitt Romney could be their nominee).
Age, gender, region, and religious preference didn’t matter. The numbers stayed the same across the board. The biggest divide in willingness to support a Mormon candidate was based on education level, as 86% of college graduates were willing to vote for a Mormon, compared to 66% of those with no college degree. (This poses a problem for Romney as lesser educated voters tend to support Republicans). Younger people age 18-34 (73%), Midwesterners (72%), and Protestants (74%) were the least likely to support a Mormon.
Mormon bias is some of the largest voting bias in the American electorate. Mormons had the third highest percentage of bias in the poll. Only gays and lesbians (67%), and atheists (49%) had a less support than Mormons. Unlike how the bias declined for blacks, Catholics, Jews, and women over the last half century, the Mormon bias has remained consistent. Since 1967, the bias against Mormon candidates has ranged from 17% who wouldn’t support to as high as 24%. In contrast, bias against Catholic candidates went from 33% in 1939 to 21% before JFK was elected to 7% in 2009.
The fact that there has been no downward trend in voting bias against Mormons in 50 years presents a big General Election problem for Mitt Romney, who may see the bias limited to individual states and primaries, but it will be a problem for him in the fall. The fact there is 18% more voter bias against Romney than Obama will make it even more difficult for him to beat the president in the fall.
It is sad that Mitt Romney’s faith matters to so many Americans. Anytime Romney’s faith is brought up to his supporters, they have a tendency to either follow their candidate’s lead or pretend like the problem doesn’t exist and scream bigot at whoever raises the question. If Mitt Romney wins the nomination, he won’t be able to run from his faith. He will have to address the issue.
The whisper campaign against Romney within the Republican Party during the 2008 primary campaign was brutal. I suspect that is only a matter of time before his GOP rivals begin using his faith against him in 2012. (My money is on Ed Rollins and the Michele Bachmann campaign playing the dirtiest pool).
Mitt Romney should be judged on his own merits. His faith shouldn’t matter, but to over 1/5 of voters it does. At the end of the day Mitt’s lack of personality, flip-flops, or ability to speak for hours and say nothing at all might not matter.
Mitt Romney’s 2012 hopes may all come down to how well he handles the Mormon issue.