Mitt Romney's 'Mormon problem' may be way overblown, new study suggests

Published: Friday, May 18 2012 11:09 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, greets Sarita Weltman before speaking at a campaign stop at the River City Brewing Company, Thursday, May 17, 2012, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Mary Altaffer, Associated Press

The non-partisan Brookings Institution published a report this week that suggests Mitt Romney's religion won't affect American voters if given a choice between the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his incumbent opponent, President Barack Obama.

CBS News reported Wednesday, "In examining the impact of Romney's religion, Michael Henderson and Matthew Chingos, the authors of the Brookings study, provided voters with varying levels of information about Mormonism and then measured the impact of that information on their political opinions. ... They found there was little evidence that any of the information provided about Romney's religion had 'more than a trivial effect' on his presidential prospects."

Concern that a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could suffer from an anti-Mormon bias during a national election is rooted in decades of polling such as Gallup's research last year that led to the headline, "In U.S., 22 percent Are Hesitant to Support a Mormon in 2012." However, the authors of the new Brookings study are quick to point out that that type of polling is not fully relevant to an election with two leading candidates who have different views on many issues.

"The authors (of the Brookings study) go on to say that none of these patterns are proof that voters will spurn Mr. Romney," the New York Times' Caucus blog reported. "Having objections to a hypothetical candidate, Mr. Chingos noted in an e-mail, is not the same as rejecting a specific candidate whom voters see as having views far closer to their own than an opposing candidate."

The Washington Post's elections blog took issue with the methodology of the Brookings research — "the fact that it was conducted through an online survey as opposed to traditional polling methods suggests that the results should be taken with a large grain of salt" — but the Post ultimately concluded, "Still, the study is an interesting counterpoint to the argument that Romney’s religion will be a hindrance and not a help come Election Day."

Gallup released national polling results Thursday that show Romney has a 50-percent favorable rating — far and away an all-time high for Romney since Gallup started tracking his favorability in 2006. "Republicans and independents are fueling the rise in Romney's favorable rating, with Democrats' views of him unchanged," Jeffrey M. Jones wrote for Gallup. "Eighty-seven percent of Republicans now view him favorably, up from 65 percent in February."

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