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Poll: Faith important in 2012, but Mormon skepticism remains
November 8th, 2011
08:25 AM ET

Poll: Faith important in 2012, but Mormon skepticism remains

By Dan Merica, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A poll released Tuesday painted a picture of a religious electorate that has a strong preference toward religious candidates.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute survey, two-thirds of voters (67%) said it is either very important or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs.

"Among those who say it is important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs, most say that what matters is simply holding strong religious beliefs, rather than holding particular religious beliefs," the survey said.

Rick Perry's faith journey culminates in presidential run

At a press briefing about the survey, Washington College political scientist Melissa Deckman said that importance of candidates' religiosity "is a notion that... transcends party."

At the same time, the electorate is split over their comfort level with a specific religion, Mormonism, and the prospect of a Mormon serving as president.

A majority of voters (53%) said they were somewhat or very comfortable with a Mormon president, while 42% said a Mormon president would make them somewhat or very uncomfortable.

"These findings suggest that when voters report that it is important that a candidate have strong religious beliefs, they have certain types of religious beliefs in mind, and hold significant reservations about the beliefs of some minority religious groups," the study said.

How Mitt Romney's Mormonism shaped his life and politics

"Clearly, most Americans like political candidates to have some sort of general civil religious beliefs," Deckman said.

"The data shows clearly here a lot of Americans show discomfort with Mormons, 42% acknowledge that, but they express more discomfort with atheists and Muslims than they do with Mormons," Deckman added.

The level of comfort with a Mormon president has risen to importance in the 2012 nomination battle because there are two Mormon candidates in the race, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

In the most recent USA Today/ Gallup poll, Romney is tied with businessman Herman Cain at the top of the field, a position Romney has maintained throughout this race.

Though only around one-third of respondents said that Mormonism is not a Christian religion, two-thirds (66%) of voters said that the religious beliefs of Mormons are somewhat or very different from their own.

Additionally, 19% of voters identified they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who had strong religious beliefs other than their own.

Mormon Church aims to counter its lily-white image

According to the study, all the data, "reveals that a substantial number of voters (42%) express concern about a Mormon becoming president."

Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI, noted at the briefing that other surveys have shown half of Americans know someone who is Mormon. "If there's a silver lining, it's that those opinions may not be strongly held," he said, adding the Romney could counter those loosely-held beliefs about Mormons on the campaign trail.

"There is no (religious) test for office. And yet it is one of the most important tests for office," said Jose Casanova, an expert in the sociology of religion at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, who also spoke at the release of the survey results. "So no official test, yet it is crucial for most voters."

The survey also examined views of income inequality in America, an issue that has thrust to the forefront of public discourse by the Occupy protests going on in cities around the world.

"A strong majority (60%) of Americans agree that the country would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal," the study said. Thirty-nine percent of respondents disagreed.

That questions was largely partisan, with 78% of Democrats and 60% of independents agreeing the country would be better, compared to 63% of Republicans who disagreed with that sentiment.

Explain it to me: Mormonism

The American Values Survey was conducted between September 22 and October 2 over the telephone. The 1,505 respondent survey comes with a plus or minus 2.5 percent margin of error.

CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Faith • Politics • Polls

soundoff (803 Responses)
  1. jon

    Ever notice how Christians talk as if they are persecuted in the US? Christianity is the largest religion in the world, and easily the largest religion in America. How can they be the persecuted ones? Just a rant, but it annoys me when I hear Christians talk about being discriminated because of their beliefs while atheists are openly assailed from the president on down by our society. When Christians complain about being persecuted, they are really complaining about losing something important to them - and they have been losing something. They have been losing the same thing as whites who are forced to accept blacks as equals and give up their race-based privileged. They have been losing the same thing as men who are forced to accept women as equal and give up their gender-based privileges.

    November 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  2. H. Scott Dalley

    Please run a story on how the mormon church works. Please include where they think they came from and their founders criminal activity. The very messed up time line regarding the starting of the church is very interesting.
    Thank you

    November 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  3. Dr.K.

    Much of the conversation in here sounds like adolescents debating the details of Harry Potter, or of the Twilight series....except adolescents have a better grasp on the fact that those magical worlds are just pretend.

    November 10, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Kev

      At least those who are into Harry Potter usually know who the author is, while those making comments here are either making their claims as to who the ultimate author is, or rather who is the ultimate source where all this news or gospel has come from either God or man. Either that or there are those who are simply wondering who or where that ultimate source of information has come from.

      November 10, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  4. Alien Orifice

    On 11/9/2011, HeavenSent said the following to me:

    HeavenSent

    He skated around the question because he knows I've got him figured out. Anywho, he probably deserved what happened to him.

    Amen.

    She was referring to the fact that I was se xually molested by a pedophile when I was 12 years old.

    I bring this to your attention because at one time, I thought HeavenSent was just a harmless old hag mad at the world. Now I realize she is far stranger. Perhaps dangerous.

    No sane or decent person would make that kind of statement. I encourage you not to engage HeavenSent in conversation. In my opinion, she has clearly crossed the line. She is IN FACT a nut case.

    My opinion only, but that is exactly what she said and that is really creepy. You be the judge.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.