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News analysis: Just 18 percent express anti-Mormon voting bias in new Gallup poll

Published: Friday, June 22 2012 12:26 p.m. MDT

In this Jan. 3, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Des Moines, Iowa. A new Gallup poll shows that the percentage who would not vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon candidate for president stands at 18 percent, almost exactly the same as the 17 percent in 1967, when Mitt Romney's father was running for president.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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A new Gallup poll shows that the percentage of Americans who would not vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon candidate for president stands at 18 percent, almost exactly the same as the 17 percent in 1967, when Mitt Romney's father was running for president.

There is evidence of noise in the poll based on the fact 25 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for a Mormon, but just 10 percent of Republicans, suggesting that many respondents were responding to Romney in 2012 rather than a Mormon candidate in the abstract.

Elizabeth Hewitt at Slate further broke out the numbers, noting that "23 percent of respondents with a high school education or less won’t support a Mormon candidate compared with just 6 percent of those with postgraduate education."

The poll also found that 43 percent of Americans do not even know Romney is a Mormon.

Putting the picture in perspective, a second Gallup report found that 80 percent of respondents said they would vote for a Mormon, 54 percent would vote for an atheist, 58 percent for a Muslim, and 68 percent for a gay or lesbian.

While some headlines are spinning the Gallup numbers as negative news for the Romney campaign, Doyle McManus at the Los Angeles Times has concluded that religion has become a "non-issue" in this campaign.

"Historically, the barrier for a Mormon candidate has been so high that political scientists David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam once dubbed it a 'stained-glass ceiling,' McManus wrote. "But to a remarkable degree, there's no longer a 'Mormon issue' in this campaign."

After discounting for the large number of Democrats in the Gallup poll who were actually responding to Romney rather than a hypothetical Mormon candidate, it would seem that the actual number of Americans who would not vote for a Mormon dips down into the irrationality basement evident in almost any poll.

For example, a 2006 Scripps Howard poll of U.S. adults found that "36 percent of respondents overall said it is 'very likely' or 'somewhat likely' that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them 'because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.'"

And a 1994 Roper poll, correcting an earlier flawed question, found that 9 percent of American adults either agreed or did not know in answering this question: "Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened, or do you feel certain that it happened?"

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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