Whether or not Mitt Romney gets a post-debate "bump" in the polls following Wednesday night's presidential debate with President Barack Obama, his religion is getting a substantial bump in terms of voter curiosity about Mormons.
Writing on The Monkey Cage, a blog site created by a group of political science professors at eastern U.S. universities, Donald Green and Daniel Butler say that "one interesting feature of the Romney candidacy is that it seems to be piquing voters' curiosity about Mormons."
The two professors – Green teaches at Columbia, Butler at Yale – cite Google search numbers for both the terms "Mitt Romney" and "Mormons" from 2004 to the present. They indicate that while weekly searches for the two terms remained relatively constant from 2004 to 2007, the numbers surged during Romney's first presidential campaign during late 2007 and early 2008. When Romney dropped out of the campaign, the numbers for both terms subsided and remained flat until June of 2011, when Romney opened his second campaign for the presidency.
At that time, Green and Butler write, "searches for 'Mormon' soared and remained high as he won the battle for nomination in the first half of 2012."
"As we enter the fall of 2012, searches for 'Mormon' have reached an all-time high," they continued. "The search term is currently five times more popular than it was in 2010."
The research by the two professors confirms a U.S. News & World Report story last month that "interest in Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is higher now than it has ever been before." That story was also based on Google search data, in that case looking at the search term "Romney Mormon" during the previous 12 months. It also looked at other Romney-centric search terms, including "Bain Romney," "tax returns Romney" and "dog on roof Romney" and found that the "Romney Mormon" association "surpasses current interest in any other topic Democrats have used to attack Romney in 2012."
According to Green and Butler, "the bottom line is that politics plays a pedagogic function."
"It is sometimes quipped that foreign policy crises cause Americans to become acquainted with world geography," they observe. "In much the same vein, the nomination of a presidential candidate with a Mormon religious background has prompted vast numbers of Americans to seek out information about his religion and its adherents."