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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. Max

    Ok CNN..on to the next contender! That's a good unbiased organization! Get 'em all knocked down for your 41% approval president!

    November 8, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  2. goz

    You would think that American Christians would love the idea that Jesus came back to earth and talked to John Smith in the 19th century. Doesn't that validate our manifest destiny over the world because are we not the one true "Nation Under God". They seem to believe a guy talked to the god of Israel through a buring bush a few thousand years ago and another walked on water and raised the dead a couple of thousand years ago. That would mean they would believe just about anything and have faith in old stories without evidence. Oh, and they don't believe Mohammed talked to the angel Gabriel 1500 years ago. I wonder why not.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  3. Kool Aid

    The Amercian Electorate has two choices:

    1) Embrace critical, reasoned thinking, in which case we have a chance of overcoming the very real–and very frightening–problems facing the entire world today.
    2) Continue to embrace the idea that some supernatural being is going to swoop down, vanquish our enemies, and otherwise solve all of our problems, in which case we are all surely doomed.

    I want a president who does NOT allow faith of ANY KIND to enter into his/her decision-making. It has no place in government. The sooner we all realize the dangers of doing otherwise, the better.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Johnny

      Based on your #2, you really are ignorant of what faith is all about.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Kool Aid

      Wrong. I've watched what so called 'faith' is capable of doing. And I've studied the history of such tragic events. Furthermore, if you are going to accept ANYthing on 'faith', then you must also accept its corollary, which is doubt.

      Nobody ever wants to talk about doubt...yet, there is PLENTY of it

      November 8, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • goz

      Johnny, I think you are the one who is confused about faith. Your faith is based on old stories told by ancient people, not in a God being that you have witnessed yourself. Rational people have faith in what they observe, not what they have been indoctrinated to believe. Try it some time. It is like quiting smoking. Once you've done it, you can't imagine why you ever tried it in the first place

      November 8, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  4. Rick McDaniel

    That simply demonstrates that America is NOT what it claims to be.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  5. Charlie from the North

    I have no problem with a Mormon being President. I have a list a mile long of reasons that this particular man should not be President but "being Mormon" is not even on the long form.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  6. Jason

    Ron Paul 2012!!
    Spread the good word!

    November 8, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Obamajoe

      he has no chance,dude,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      November 8, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  7. mcd

    I know a lot of Mormons and except for one, they are some of the most decent people I know. This would not be an issue for me, though I'm an Independent leaning toward Obama.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Edwin

      I've known many Mormons, too, and not all were decent people. So in that regard, they are a lot like other Americans.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Charlie from the North

      Your comment is an example of my reaction to these "mythical match-ups between Obama and "a Republican to be named later". The problem the GOP has now that the tea party is trying to hijack their nomination process is that to appeal to the t-baggers any candidate will have to move towards "all kind of stupid" but then he/she will have to try to turn around and make sense to the independents. That won't be easy for anyone. I was hoping for Cain because if those folks who would "never vote for a black President stay home Obama is a sure thing.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • NOT rob

      So? I know a lot of americans that are a••holes, a lot of them are commenting here. Religious freedom is the foundation of this country. If you judge someone alone on that you are the worst kind of citizen.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  8. Gary N (Boone NC)

    I find it both a bit pleasing and unsettling that people are asking questions about his faith. Pleasing because it shows people are paying attention to the faith of those running for the most powerful office in the world. Unsettling because they feel that this man's faith is unsettling. Why should we care? If he says "I have a strong faith" but will be a good leader why shouldn't we as a people appreciate that? The same unsettling was present when JFK ran but if you remember he chose to shake the Pope's hand rather than kiss his ring. What I think would help Romney is if he gave a speech that says "I have a faith that is different than many but I promise if elected I will represent everyone." I do not agree with Mormonism but I do think this man is not looking to try and make this a "Mormon Nation". People need to get a grip and realize he is running as a candidate, not as a faith.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Stan

      That sounds pretty, but in reality his faith will impact his decisions on some significant social and even foreign policy issues. That has to be considered, given the power of the POTUS office.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • jon

      Do they really have magic underpants?

      November 8, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Edwin

      Stan,

      Your argument is reasonable, but a stronger indicator of the direction he might take the country would be to look at his actions as governor, and as a businessman. If his faith influences his tough decisions, it would have done so in those jobs, too.

      Not all faith-based decisions are wrong, even from an atheist's standpoint. We are the sum of all our life experiences (and other things), not just those experiences related to faith. Kennedy was a Catholic, but his presidency did not turn America into a Catholic Nation. Likewise, Romney is unlikely to want to create a Mormon America.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Objective in CA

      Really, Gary...? That's all you've got? The simple answer is "No" they do not have magic underpants. There is nothing "magic" about them. They are simply undergarments with symbols on them to help faithful Mormons remember the covenants they have made and the potential blessings that they can hope for if they keep their covenants. It is really no different than wearing a cross, using a fish, or any other type of symbol that is used to help people remember.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Objective in CA

      Sorry, Gary... I meant Jon... I don't see any way of responding directly to a responder on CNN's comment board.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  9. Kyle

    The hell is wrong with mormons? I have no problems with them.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Stan

      Exactly.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Sammiamm

      exactly, but the over-focus on religion is dangerous. I don't think this is what our forefathers had in mind.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Obamajoe

      politicians stirs it up,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      November 8, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  10. jnuey

    looking at the poll now , 54 % of Americans are uncomfortable with Obama being President

    November 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Obamajoe

      That's a GOP poll,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,they ask things like : Do you think Obama is as pure as Jesus ? -----If you said No,,,,then you are saying Obama is a bad president,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,political thing,,,,,,,,,,,

      November 8, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  11. Joe

    Wow, 42% of Americans are bigots? That means R and D are in the same boat? Darn you for calling all of us out!!!!

    November 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  12. Obamajoe

    Does anybody know "the watch tower" ?

    November 8, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Stan

      Only too well. I still get snakeoil/god sellers coming to my door to push it, occasionally. Fortunately, I have a really big dog.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Obamajoe

      Go,,,Mitt ,,,GO,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,That will be a great PK,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      November 8, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • richunix

      @Stan;

      You need to "Lose your Hounds upon them". For me, I release my pair of lions on them and lunch for the lions was never so good. Live a little!

      November 8, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Objective in CA

      You guys know that the "Watchtower" publication is not associated with Mormonism in any way, right? That' a Jehovah's Witnesses publication, I believe.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  13. Spearwielder

    Interesting tie-in: A study last year showed that those who were least educated about Mormon beliefs were most likely to be uncomfortable with a Mormon in political office. I guess ignorance is not bliss after all.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Spearwielder

      And an interesting follow-up: According to the Gallup poll in June, the more educated a person is in general, the less likely they are to be uncomfortable with a Mormon in office. Strike two against ignorance, I guess.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Stan

      In another Gallup poll, the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to have religious faith.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • lynn

      Read "The Peaceable Kingdom" and you'll understand why we should stir clear of a Mormon in the WH. There are too many strange beliefs they must adhere to with their church dictating every facet of their life.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Objective in CA

      @lynn ...and don'r forget to read every negative piece written about Catholics, Jews, and anyone else you disagree with, especially if they are written by those with an opposing agenda. I am a Mormon. The core beliefs are well-grounded and quite mainstream. No one is in control of my life but me (and God). It is a central tenet of Mormonism that we are responsible for making our own choices and dealing with the consequences that come from them. A personal and direct connection with diety (so that no one has to depend on any mortal man or woman for faith-based answers but can instead appeal directly to God through prayer) is preached virtually every week in church. Does this sound like a faith-system that is trying to control every aspect of its adherent's lives?

      More important to the conversation (and just as has been discussed earlier by others), look at Mitt Romney's past record for a good predictor of how he will function as POTUS. He fixes things; that's the bottom line. From broken companies to broken state budgets to broken Olympics... He rolls up his sleeves and fixes things. It is quite likely that he will be able to do the same for our broken government in Washington D.C.

      November 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  14. HPNIII

    Given the rate of success with Christian Presidents perhaps a change is due.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Jobe

      Mormons are chrsitians.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  15. Stormin Mormon

    Mormons have magic underpants.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Obamajoe

      What is that ?

      November 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Stan

      Bill Clinton told Monica he did too.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  16. Lisa Schaefer

    I am extremely disappointed in CNN.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Obamajoe

      Why ? please enjoy to be a CNN netizen 😀

      November 8, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Stan

      Care to explain why?

      Or are you just assuming that the whole world thinks like you do, even though you've never left your hometown in Inbredsville, Alabama.

      November 8, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  17. Obamajoe

    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,upgrades ,,,,,,,,,,,,

    November 8, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  18. Joe here in Colorado

    I'm not religious, but the Mormons I know and work with I would trust more than any so-called "Christian". Christians are the vilest, most mentally-challenged people I know. And I say this as a person who respects Jesus as an amazing man. Unfortunately those who call themselves his followers are uneducated morons.

    November 8, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Obamajoe

      Good,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i feel fine with Mormons too,,,,,,,,,

      November 8, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Whoosh

      A' too the men'

      November 8, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  19. closet atheist

    ...and it's obviously undisputed that there's a high correlation between religious beliefs and ethics (and one's ability to run the country). When is this ridiculous Christian Coalition going to lose its stranglehold on the republican party? Also, did anybody else notice the source of this idiotic survey....??

    November 8, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  20. Big Bob

    The long form was a fake, zippy!

    November 8, 2011 at 11:29 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.