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For most Republican voters, Mitt Romney's faith is not an issue

By Mercedes White

Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 22 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

In this Oct. 13, 2011 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Redmond, Wash.

Elaine Thompson, AP

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new study suggests that conventional wisdom about a Mormon bias in the Republican party could be overstated.

Even among Republican voters who are concerned about Romney's religion, the desire to unseat Obama supersedes qualms they have about a Mormon President.

A Pew Research Center report released late Tuesday found that 88 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they are either unaware of Romney's religion or it will make no difference in how they vote.

The data shows that 44 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say Romney's religion won't impact their vote. Another 44 percent said they were unaware of his faith. These results seem to suggest that for the vast majority of Republican voters religion is essentially a non-issue.

"The survey results relflect the mood of the electorate," says Matt Bowman, a professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia said. "Voters in this cycle are more concerned with economic issues."

Pew's study differs from previous polls that found somewhere between 32 and 36 percent of Republicans would not consider voting for a Mormon candidate.

The study did find, however, that a significant Mormon bias does exist among some Republican voters, particularly Evangelicals. The majority of white Evangelicals--53 percent--don't consider Mormonism a Christian religion and think it is vastly different from their faith. Only 17 percent of white Evangelicals list Romney as their first choice for the GOP nomination, according to the Pew study.

But that could change if Romney gets the Republican nomination. Voter preference depends on who else is running, said Quin Monson, associate director for the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. "When voting for a Mormon, context matters," Monson says. Voters frustrated by the faltering economy and the Obama administration may "galvanize Republicans around the candidate they think can win a general election," Monson says.

In other words, if Romney wins the nomination, Republicans of all stripes will likely fall behind him. The Pew Study found the same thing. "The same Republicans who have doubts about Romney's candidacy because of his faith are among the most vehement opponents of President Obama," the study states. In fact, 91 percent of white Evangelical voters surveyed said they would back Romney over Obama in a general election. Of those, 79 percent said they would support Romney vigorously.

According to Monson, "[These findings] are a good sign for Romney. It seems he has the ability to get past the religion issues which dogged him in 2007 and 2008."

EMAIL: mwhite@desnews.com

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