Beliefs Politics

Mormonism hurt Mitt Romney in 2008. What about 2012?

RNS photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

WASHINGTON (RNS) Mitt Romney's Mormon faith makes people uneasy. If used against him in the fall presidential election, the negative stigma or stereotypes could be hard to overcome, according to an academic study released Monday (May 21) by political scientists at the University of Akron, Notre Dame and Brigham Young University.

Former Governor Mitt Romney speaking at CPAC FL in Orlando, Florida.

Former Governor Mitt Romney speaking at CPAC FL in Orlando, Florida.

That, at least, was the case in 2008, and “given that the general perception of Mormons has not changed,” the research suggests “that Romney's religion will remain a potential stumbling block.”

This is the “stained-glass ceiling” which used to restrict Catholics and Jews from high office, according to the study, which was published in the journal Political Behavior. Most Americans are still far less familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though there are about equal numbers of Mormons and Jews in the United States.

Mormons and non-Mormons don't interact much, making non-Mormons “susceptible to persuasion by negative information about the group in question,” according to the study's authors, including religion and politics scholar John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

The problem is not that Romney “is open with his faith,” Green said. “It is that his Mormon faith, in particular, makes many people uneasy. And that unease has political consequences.”

This was demonstrated in Romney's failed 2008 presidential bid, according to the study, which examined polling data by a consortium of universities as well as analyses of other studies on religion and politics. Concerns over Romney's Mormonism “dwarfed concerns about the religious backgrounds of Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee,” the study says. This occurred despite Romney's declaration in a nationally televised speech that “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.”

He said that while his and other churches may have differences in theology, “we share a common creed of moral convictions.”

Will voters' still have those concerns in 2012? The study suggests they could if Romney's religion is attacked. But one of the co-authors, J. Quin Monson of BYU, noted in a telephone interview that this election could mark a departure.

Romney has all but sewn up the GOP nomination, whereas neither Clinton, a Democrat, nor Huckabee, a Republican, won their respective parties' nominations in 2008. Attacks on Romney from the left by figures such as HBO's Bill Maher, who used Twitter on Monday to call Mormonism a “cult” may do little to sway conservatives anyway.

And evangelical conservatives who in the past were wary of Mormonism appear to be even more worried by a different prospect — the reelection of President Obama. Many conservative Christians have become more accepting of Romney's faith.

David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign strategist, told CNN on Sunday that attacks on Romney's religion are “not fair game.”

“The real question mark is whether the changing context will change the reaction to Romney's religion,” BYU's Monson said. He said he wants to see hard data, “but I think it's entirely possible that we may see a shift in 2012.”

(Steve Koff writes for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland)



Romney Study

About the author

Stephen Koff

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment
  • Romney’s religion should not be the question or the problem as long as he and everyone else keeps it out of the picture. What is really addled with the current Republican Party, ever since it jumped in bed with the Religious Right, whoring for votes, is that it has become poisoned with all sorts of religious quacks trying to violate the First Amendment to our Constitution which prohibits any church establishments, which means, in plain language, the separation of state and church.

    Only separation will protect both state and churches from the historic evils with which they have destroyed each other whenever they have been joined in history. It is vital that we return to the constitutional, legal, honest, and total separation of state and church with which the Constitution protects both entities.

    History proves the mixture of church and state is absolute poison. Anyone who does not understand and admit that is ignorant about church history or a plain liar. We are witnessing the beginnings of that horrible combination again in this country as our Constitution is being defied. You only had to listen to Rick Santorum’s mad distortions during his recent campaign to recognize that. You only have to listen to the ugly bigotry toward Mormonism and Romney by “good” Christians of the extreme right of the Republican Party to hear that. History is being repeated. Separation is vital and must be total!