Survey: Romney's Mormon religion may have little impact in election
"While they are uncomfortable with Mormonism, they are much more profoundly unhappy with President Obama and will put aside their reservations about Mormonism and see Romney as a much more acceptable alternative," Wilson said.
The Pew study found the greatest skepticism about Mormonism being a Christian faith is among white evangelicals, 42 percent of which said it is not Christian, and black Protestants, of which 38 percent said it was not.
As for the impact of the 7 percent in a tight race, Belz predicts most of those voters will "swallow hard and vote for Romney," leaving a fraction who may either not vote or write someone in.
"That depends on if you can get them into the voting booth," said Quinn Monson, a political scientist at Brigham Young University. "They have to be enthused enough with Romney and upset enough at Obama to get out and vote."
He said that unlike McCain in 2008, Romney has the resources and the organization to accomplish that in swing states.
Wilson said the Pew data show a possible opening for Romney to energize that evangelical base by discussing his faith more openly and using it as a vehicle to bring moral values and faith into the debate.
The Pew report confirmed the persistence of a longstanding trend in which more than two thirds of voters want a president with strong religious beliefs. In the most recent survey, 67 percent said that was important to them. Another 52 percent said it does not bother them when politicians "talk about how religious they are."
"Even in a race where neither of the candidates wants to talk about religion, it's still the case that religious values are a huge dividing line between the two candidates," Wilson said. "No one is talking about it but it's still the elephant in the room."
But an earlier Pew survey found a minority of voters (16 percent) are interested in hearing more about Romney's religious beliefs, while far more voters wanted to hear about his record as governor (41 percent), his federal tax returns (36 percent) and his record at Bain Capital (35 percent).
Greg Smith, senior researcher with the Pew Research Center, said survey data from the 2008 presidential election help explain why voters say it's important that candidate to have strong religious beliefs, but have limited interest in an in-depth knowledge of the candidate's faith.
"People did have a more favorable view of candidates that they perceived as religious," Smith said. "But the bar for that was not particularly high. You didn't have to view a candidate to be very religious to have a favorable view of them."
But Smith said the impact of those who say they are uncomfortable with Romney's (13 percent) or Obama's faith (19 percent) shouldn't be minimized or ignored.
"They are minorities but not insignificant minorities," Smith said. "But the other side of it is the patterns of views in those questions are linked to other factors in the election that kind of limit their potential to affect the outcome, because Republicans say they will vote for Romney whether or not they are comfortable with his faith, and Democrats say they will vote for Obama whether or not they are comfortable with his faith."
Other findings in the survey include:
— 66 percent of voters said churches or houses of worship should not endorse political candidates.
— 65 percent said liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government.
— 48 percent said Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country.
— 50 percent of non-Mormons said Mormonism is a Christian religion, while 31 percent said it is not. Those numbers have remained steady since 2007.
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