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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. D

    I'm uneasy about any religious president.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Lou

      You ought to be. Bush said he heard God telling him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  2. Mike

    damn right, Mormons are a cult not a religion.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • hippypoet

      sry mikey, every religion is a cult... time to move on buddy!

      November 8, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Melissa

      Crazy cult – and yet Mitt Romney is nearly the only GOPer not claiming to be called by God. Hmmm.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Just Me

      Man, another "culter" sounding like those ignorant "birthers". Hey Donald, is that you?

      November 8, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  3. Jared

    I am uneasy with all of our presidential choices.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  4. Rudy Gonzales

    Religion is religion is religion. If one person believe in GOD, but honors and prays to Him in his own church or way; who is man to make decisions that Catholics, Protestants, Muslims or any other religion is the litmus for the presidency? Those who make this kind of decision are the most bigoted and prejudiced in America. America was founded on the separation of church and state. There were so many against John Kennedy because of his religion, but it turns out he was just as human and any other man in America.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  5. ObamaJoe

    Even he is a Mormon does not mean he is a true Mormon........A "christian" does not means a true christian,,,,,,,,,the world is changing too fast,,,,,,,,,

    November 8, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  6. Feris

    Hey 42% of America: next time you talk to your kid's teacher, call a police officer, visit your doctor, honor a vetern or firefighter, or thank the little league coach who volunteers in your community, ask yourself if it really matters what religion his/her family practices. If you really are so uncomfortable with Mormons in public life, you better find out who is among you and apply the religious test to them as well.........oooooooo! Look out!....we live among you....

    November 8, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • LRT

      I think the concern is with separation of church and state, and if that's possible with a Mormon in a high public office. It probably doesn't matter in the instances that you mentioned.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Feris

      Why would Sen Dems select Harry Reid to Majority Leader if they applied a religious test? In this case, Senate Dems are more reasonable than 42% of Americans.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Dave

      Very much agreed Feris.

      LRT: why would you be more concerned about separation of church and state with a Mormon in office vs a Jew, an Evangelical Christian, etc.?

      I find it interesting that Romney himself hasn't made religion the issue – it's the media, people speaking on behalf of other candidates, etc. Like him or not, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that *he* is having any problem keeping church and state separate.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Epimetheus

      I lived in Arizona for over 11 years so I am quite familiar with Mormons insinuating themselves in all niches of society. I have known a fair number of Mormons, worked with and under some, and I have no problems with them in those capacities. However, anyone that believes in all of the Joseph Smith, golden plates, lost tribe and angel Moroni nonsense is not fit to govern any country. And, Mormons have baptized many people, including holocaust victims, without their consent or the consent of their families. There is no way I am not happy with any elected official that testifies to their love of Jesus Christ, or declares their being a member of any Abrahamic religion–Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Religion has no place in our government, and I don't believe a devout Mormon will dare go against the church on hot-button social issues. It seems that most religions have trouble accepting that freedom of religion also includes freedom from religion. The minute a candidate speaks god or religion, they have crossed the line and should not be elected. As the Consitution plainly stated, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

      November 8, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Mormonism=Brainwashing=BEWARE!

      Feris, you're obviously LDS.

      Mormons constantly boast about their achievements...their finances...their kids. For those of us non-LDS folks, trust me–it gets quite annoying. Yeah–there are Mormon cops, teachers, volunteers. We get it. You think you're God's chosen ones since, after all, Jesus appeared here in America. Yeah right.

      99%–not all, but most–of the Mormons I know could use a dose of humility. We don't want to hear anymore about your church, your prophet, your stocked pantry, your kids' college (BYU, of course), your busy schedule.

      November 8, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  7. RobW.

    I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormon Church"). Having said that, I will not be voting for Mitt Romney. Obviously, my vote has nothing to do with how I feel about his religion, because, well, I belong to the same religion that he does. I will not be voting for him because I have been so concerned about his "flip-flopping". I have had a real hard time with that, and I will also not be voting for him because I am concerned that so many Americans who need help right now will be hurt even more if he is elected. Many conservative candidates are focused on keeping the government out of everything, when sometimes the government is the only way to make sure that people get a chance to reach their dreams.

    I also wont be voting for Obama, because, as a voter, I feel like he has not proven to me why I should give him 4 more years.

    I dont want to be a part of a huge debate on religious points and beliefs, because we all know that those debates can be dragged on for hours. But if I wanted to learn about another religion, I would contact that religion. I would go to their official website. I would talk with members of that religion. So, it has been my experience that there is a lot of confusion out there about "Mormon" beliefs. http://www.mormon.org is a great website. Also, I know that people have a right to their opinion, but it is odd and troubling when individuals that do not know me at all say, "Mormons are not christian." I mean, come on now. Who are we to tell someone else whether they are christian or not? There is something concerning about an individual who tries his or her best to follow what they believe, make sacrifices throughout his or her life, and then have a complete stranger shrug their shoulders and say, "You are not what you say you are." Again, I respect peoples' right to say what they wish. I don't care what religion someone is, let that person worship as they please. With all the problems in today's world, with all the murder, crime, immorality, and such, can't we just let people worship peacefully? I think that there are more important and pressing issues right now than whether or not someone should be called a christian.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Mormonism=Brainwashing=BEWARE!

      You sound like a convert. Longtime LDS families can remember when NONE of you called yourselves Christian. You were Mormons or LDS, never a Christian. Nowadays, even Jehovah's Witnesses consider themselves Christians. Heck–what's the alternative? Muslim? Buddhist? Atheist? No...Mormons want to fit in.

      And we're glad LDS can have caffeine now...as long as it's in a cold beverage like Diet Coke. But nooooo coffee...that's still wrong. And let the blacks have leadership roles now, even though your church wouldn't let them in the early 80's!! But go ahead and call yourselves Christian if you want. Whatever makes you feel like your religion still isn't a cult...which most of us know that it IS.

      November 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  8. Phil in KC

    We need to get religion out of politics. I don't care what God a candidate worships (or doesn't worship). I care about his/her stand on the issues. So what if he's a Mormon?
    And, to those who say that Mormons are not Christians, I can tell you that I was in a Mormon church recently and there was a picture of Jesus Christ (or the artist's impression of Jesus Christ) hanging on the wall. Of course they're Christians; they just have additional beliefs most Christians do not. Whether you agree with those beliefs has nothing to do with a candidate's fitness to govern.
    That said, Romney does not get my vote because of his stands on the issues – and that is the only reason. Other than that, I find him very likeable.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Tevan

      Whether you agree with those beliefs has nothing to do with a candidate's fitness to govern.
      Oh really now. Anyone who believes bible stories to be hard facts is not fit to govern .

      November 8, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  9. MCJNY

    Here's a good place to rethink the entire notion of religion and politics. If this article said "42% said a jewish president made them somewhat nervous" there would be an uproar. There should be an uproar about this as well. Religion is a personal and private value system. It gets dragged into politics to bolster a bad idea or decision. Imagine if somebody told you that your religion was a factor in your getting a job. You would sue them for workplace discrimination, and you would be right. How is this any different? Its time to confirm what the founding fathers already knew. religion has no place in politics.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • hippypoet

      Now thats a proper argument against religion in the work place a.k.a. – public life for polit!tions!

      November 8, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • rmax

      You nailed it! CHARACTER, COMPETENCE AND LEADERSHIP are the key factors in choosing a President. It is time for America to THINK SMART, otherwise we'll follow Rome.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  10. Cyrus

    And in another news, about 50% people of our nation are complete idiots.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Bburgdave

      Mormon prez doesn't bother me at all. It's the Muslim one we got now that's got me shakin' in my boots.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  11. kdf

    If we are going to choose a president based on what religion they are then we will end up right back where we are now. You dont vote for someone based on their religion, race, beliefs, gender... you vote based on how they can help our country thrive and move forward, not backwards and backrupt as it is now. You must choose based on honesty and I have yet to see anything that was promised 4 years ago to happen.
    At least mormons have a consious, even in politics.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  12. MG

    And in another astonishing study, 42% of Americans are bigoted against anyone who isn't white and christian.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Billy Bob Cletus Feckwood, III

      More like 67%.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Xman

      Being against having a Mormon president may have nothing to do with being bigoted. It could be that folks, with Separation of Church and State in mind, may want a president that is religious neutral, that's all. Having a Mormon President to me tells me the Church could get a big boost from having Romney in the White House, something that should not happen out of the basic principle that governance and religion shouldn't mix. Besides, if you look at Mormon history, there are more disturbing practices, teachings, and beliefs about this "religion" than most can tolerate. For example, they're hate towards African Americans until it no longer became socially acceptable to hate them, the teaching that "more kids equals more planetary real estate when you're dead" and the fact they still treat and look at women as having "their place" within the religion and at home. I could go on, but you get my picture. Having that "kind" of religion in the White House is beyond disturbing, and yea, it doesn't fit. It has little do to with bigotry.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • rmax

      I would say this is an endemic REPUBLICAN PROBLEM.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • rmax

      Mormons I know are well behave citizens than the Roman Christians I have known. Mormons seems to live and behave what their doctrines practices, and that is live the way Jesus lived. Now wonder Howard Hughes only hired the Mormons because he can trust them.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  13. Alex

    Just remember this poll if either of those two win the Presidency and the birther types turn their attention towards them. And it will happen because – rightly or wrongly – there are those who view Mormonism as a cult. And just as there are those playing dirty tricks to try and make the current president illegitimate, these same tricks will be brought out against any GOP president who isn't a WASP. (Cain looks like he's probably going the Gary Hart route.)

    November 8, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  14. scoto

    And if that "strong religious belief" were held by a Muslim candidate? I think this poll is a bit flawed

    November 8, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • John Gabriel

      The devout Christian fundamentalists don't consider Islam a religion or haven't you figured this out yet? All religion needs to be eradicated in a new Holocaust where the clergy are put down first.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  15. Bookss

    At least 66% of the people asked new that Mormanism is not Christianity. I hope 100% of the Christians that were asked we're a part of that 66%

    November 8, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Bookss

      Knew not new

      November 8, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • hippypoet

      so this states that 66% of americans are idiots... i already knew that!

      November 8, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • curious

      Need to get your math right, "around one-third of respondents said that Mormonism is not a Christian religion". It's 67% that believe it is a Christian religion.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      @Bookss. Please google the No True Scottsman fallacy. You just committed it.

      It is, however, amusing to see Christians fighting between themselves as to who is more Christian-y

      November 8, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Dave

      But Mormons *are* Christians. They might not be /evangelical/ Christians, but they are Christians by any normal definition of the word – they believe in Jesus Christ, they worship Jesus Christ, they believe that only through Christ can you be saved, they believe you need to try to model your life after Christ's teachings, etc.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  16. Billy Bob Cletus Feckwood, III

    Silly Republicans. I imagine their secret meetings go like this: "We all agree Obama is the worst president ever and needs to be replaced. Yet, we cannot agree on the one candidate that can beat him because his version of the invisible man in the sky is different than ours. So, 4 more years of Obama. Black secret muslim non-american is better than a mormon." What utter fools.

    Christianity is a religion of love! This is why we must damn all non-Christians to eternal hell! This is also why we must march to Jerusalem raping and killing all the way. We'll call it a Crusade so it will sound holy! Also, let's torture people to death who believe in science! Let's murder abortion doctors! Let's tie gays up to trucks and drag them! Yay Christians! We love everyone!

    November 8, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  17. jim

    Yet Obama was is a church where he had to denounce the paster. Mormons are fine.

    November 8, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  18. Anti romney mormon

    For clairification, the golden plates were a record kept by native americans (Mayans?). Romney won't get my vote because of his platform not his faith.

    November 8, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Dave

      Thank you! I'm a Mormon myself and it's really encouraging to hear more people take the same stance you are taking – vote for or against a candidate based on their platform, their record, etc. But not their religion, that's silly.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  19. Skeptic

    42% don't want Mormon president. That shows just how much Americans believe in freedom of religion.

    November 8, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • kimsland

      And that was a religious survey.
      Even religious people think we shouldn't have religious people in power.

      November 8, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Sadtosay

      I think this has a lot to do with how serious Mormons take their religion. If someone says they are Christian it means anything from as much as church every Sunday to as little as their father drove by a church in the late 60s. There aren't many Christeaster equivalents in the Mormon church.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • NotSurprise

      Well said.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Cyrus

      Not necessarily Americans. I can bet most were conservative Republicans, or even some conservative Democrats. To them, their own religious freedom is the only thing that matters. The rest can go to hell (or accept Jesus and join their righteous flock)

      November 8, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Mike

      Mormons are a cult started by a pervert

      November 8, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  20. Gayle

    I don't put much value into poll results unless I can see the exact questions that people are asked. So many times the questions are so leading that the answers will be obvious. Questions like, "Do you think America would be better off,if there was a more even distribution of wealth?" should be followed up with "Do you think it is the governments responsibility to make sure that there is a more even distribution of wealth?" Historically I've never seen an increase in government intervention result in anything but a larger discrepancy between rich and poor.

    November 8, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • RightCoast

      Exactly! Pick your pollster, pick your questions, and pick your reporter and you can get a majority of people to say and think anything. Posting the exact questions and their order needs to be a requisite when reporting on polls.

      November 8, 2011 at 10:17 am |
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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.