Is Romney's 'Mormon Problem' Actually a Problem?

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A running narrative -- sometime prominent, other times latent -- in the 2012 election is Romney's Mormonism, and whether it might scare away many a good evangelical Republican from the voting booth. The story goes like this: Conservative evangelical Christians, a pillar of the GOP electorate, will be so turned off by Romney and his strange religious beliefs that they will avoid voting altogether, even though they prefer Romney to Obama. In turn, Obama's path to victory gets all the easier.

Indeed, there's some scary evidence supporting that story (scary for the GOP): 22 percent of voters polled said they wouldn't vote for a Mormon, according to Gallup. In all but two primary states, Romney has worse exit poll numbers among evangelicals than non-evangelicals. But, to borrow a word from Obama, there's hope.

In a new study from the Brookings Institute, Matthew M. Chingos and Michael Henderson gave one of four prompts to survey respondents before asking them their likelihood of voting for Romney or Obama. One prompt mentioned that Romney was running for president, one said he was Mormon, one emphasized similarities between Mormons and traditional Christians, and the last emphasized the differences. It was the researchers' way of modeling what they anticipate happening during the election, reflecting different and changing levels of knowledge about Romney's religion.

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Today, "55% say they know little and another 27% say they know nothing about Mormon practices and beliefs," according to Chingos and Henderson. Their main finding: As Romney is framed by his religion, his support among all conservatives actually increases.


"Respondents in general—and white evangelicals in particular—were just as likely to support Romney regardless of what they were told about Romney’s religion," Chingos and Henderson write. 

Those of us who've followed the steadily building alliance between conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics over the years shouldn't be surprised. As an adolescent Mitt would tell you (per Jason Horowitz), the virgin birth and Holy Trinity sounds about as outlandish as any doctrine Mormons offer up (golden tablets, for example). Chingos and Henderson posit that those on the right might interpret Romney's faith as just another conservative credential, meaning that the right may be willing to put aside petty religious differences when it comes to defeating Barack Obama.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.