Wish I had time tonight to read through this study myself, but since I don’t, I’m trusting BuzzFeed’s summary. Nothing surprising here, though. A Gallup poll taken last year at this time found Democrats nearly 10 points more likely than Republicans to say they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon for president.
The big question: Is anti-Mormon bias coloring voters’ impressions of Romney or is anti-Romney bias coloring voters’ impressions of Mormonism?
According to American National Election Studies, nearly 35 percent of national respondents said in February they were “less likely” to vote for a Mormon. That’s up nine points from 2007, when Pew found 26 percent of voters expressing concern about pulling the lever for a Latter-day Saint…
According to the paper, concern about Mormonism has remained relatively stable among Evangelicals, with 36 percent expressing aversion to an LDS candidate in 2007 and 33 percent doing so in 2012. But among non-religious voters, that number shot up 20 points in the past five years, from 21 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in February. There were also substantial increases in Mormon-averse voters among liberals — 28 percent in 2007 and 43 percent in 2012 — as well as moderates, who went from 22 percent in 2007 to 32 percent this year…
The new study argues that the single most accurate predictor of how a voter views Romney is how he views Mormons — whether or not they are Christian, patriotic, hard-working, and friendly. Strikingly, the correlation between attitudes about Mormonism and support for Romney is even stronger than political ideology or party identification…
The paper comes with an important caveat: the survey data was collected in late February and early March — in the heat of the Republican primaries.
Granted, Romney wasn’t the nominee yet when the most recent data was collected, but he’s been the presumptive nominee for 18 months and a candidate for the White House for six years. Since 2008, when a voter is asked how they’d feel about a “hypothetical” Mormon president, to some extent they’re really being asked how they feel about Romney. Five years ago, the average liberal probably didn’t know much about him and didn’t perceive him as a major threat to the Democrats since he never got traction in the Republican primary, so antipathy to the “hypothetical” Mormon president was tepid. This year, as an extremely well-funded, well-organized de facto nominee looking to knock off a weakened Democratic incumbent, he’s as major as a major threat can be — and so suddenly alarm bells about him and his background are ringing among his opponents.
For instance, here’s something that somehow made it past the editors at America’s most famous “news” weekly:
I found myself discussing this situation with several colleagues, and we agreed that Romney doesn’t lie. Let me repeat: Mitt Romney doesn’t lie. He is telling the truth as he sees it — and truth it is, the facts notwithstanding. This is not simply a case of Hamlet arguing about point of view, saying, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This is about a conflict between evidence and faith. There is a long tradition in the Mormon belief system in which evidence takes second place to faith. Examples abound, as when two Mormon elders who were questioned about the inconsistency in passages from the Book of Mormon said, “We know the Book of Mormon is true and that it contains the Word of God even in the face of evidence that appears contradictory,” according to The Mormon Missionaries by former Mormon Janice Hutchison. Thus there are no lies, only faith-based certainty that translates as truth for which no apology is needed, since what was said was not a lie.
Children learn to lie at different times in their development, but almost always by the age of 10. Their lies help establish them as separate from their parents, especially if the parents believe them. And one doesn’t have to be a Mormon to lie — just look at John Edwards or former Nevada Senator John Ensign. But in the Mormon Church, there was a decision to accept authority as true — whether or not evidence supported it. Hence Joseph Smith, the founder of the faith in 1820, claimed he was illiterate and received the Book of Mormon directly from God. But he could read, and read very well.
If you took this argument seriously, which some dimmer voters might, you’d have to conclude that devout Mormons are essentially pathologically incapable of separating truth from falsehood. I don’t think the author actually believes that (or am I giving him too much credit?), but he’s out to score a point for The One and so he lets his anti-Romney posture lead him to an inane anti-Mormon generalization.
Which is not to say this is entirely an anti-Romney thing. There’s been more media coverage of Mormonism generally lately because of his rise to political stardom, so it may be that some lefties and nonreligious types are learning more about the tenets of the faith and becoming more critical of it for whatever reason. Don’t forget either that Mormons took a lot of heat from the left for their role in funding the Prop 8 effort in California in 2008 and hard feelings about that endure. (Ross Douthat notes the irony of a group that was despised in its infancy for practicing a very untraditional form of marriage now being despised by some lefties for being too traditional.) And finally, all but the most low-information voters on both sides probably have some sense by now that Mormons are an overwhelmingly pro-Republican demographic. Utah is as red as a red state gets, and apart from Harry Reid, even I can’t think of a prominent Mormon Democrat offhand. It may be that, because of Romney’s ascendance and the success of Prop 8, liberals are now more aware that “Mormon” usually (but of course not always) means “Republican” and so politics is creeping into their perception a bit.
Anyway. Whenever we get into a discussion of which candidates are most victimized by suspicion about the demographic to which they belong, I feel obliged to throw myself a little pity party. I’ll leave you with this chart from Gallup’s poll last year. Party on, fellow nonbelievers!