In a previous diary entry, I noted that both Mitt Romney and John Huntsman would have trouble winning the nomination for the Republican Party and an equally difficult time in a general election. Some took note that I seemed to intimate that their religion more than any factor would be a likely factor to oppose a Mormon candidate. With Romney, he has baggage, such as Romneycare in Massachusetts, while Huntsman was a member of the Obama Administration. Personally, these factors, more than their religion, are greater factors to vote against them, although I would be more inclined to support Huntsman. Regardless, I think many who took exception to any comments they misinterpreted are also those who live in some weird utopia where religion, age, race, and other demographic factors play no role in supporting candidates. My experience has been that they do play a role despite what people say overtly.
As to the subject at hand, practically every poll I have seen in the past indicates that a Mormon would have a difficult time garnering support. Some of these polls go back to 2006, but I am quite confident that the attitudes, thoughts and beliefs of the electorate have not changed dramatically in the ensuing 5 years. In 2006, a Fox News poll showed that 32% of voters were less likely to vote for a Mormon leaving everything else off the table. Only three groups fared worse- Muslims, atheists, and Scientologists. In 2007, a Pew Research poll found that 25% of voters were less likely to vote for a Mormon. That is just those who answered the poll question honestly. One can surmise that perhaps the percentage is even higher than 25%. What is even more interesting is that among white Christian evangelicals who attend church weekly, the percentage of those stating they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate rises to 41%. Considering that a Republican candidate has to survive South Carolina on their way to the nomination, a candidate not only has to overcome his record as Governor of Massachusetts, but there will be those whispered doubts about his religion.
Looking at more recent polls where Romney is considered, his approval rating among conservatives in Iowa is a mere 48%. Compare that with Mike Huckabee at 66%. In an even more conservative state like Georgia, where his religion will no doubt be an even bigger issue, his support amongst conservatives is not much better at 52%. Traditional conservatives who just happen not to be Mormons like Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee fare better amongst conservatives in a conservative state at 78% and 83% respectively.
It is when we move away from the Bible Belt states that Romney’s Mormonism plays less of a role, yet still weighs upon him. For example, in Michigan, Romney receives a 66% favorable rating among conservatives compared to Huckabee’s 68%. And in transitional states, like Florida that I do not consider the Bible Belt in the overall sense (the northern panhandle is, of course), Romney compares somewhat favorably with Gingrich but not with Huckabee. Why?
The answer is simple: people feel more comfortable voting for someone most like them. If Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney all stood on the same stage and all said the same thing with the same degree of charisma or whatever you like, Romney would probably come in third because he was least like the audience because of his religion. Of course, there are other factors that offset, to a certain degree, the religion issue. For example, Mike Huckabee raised taxes while Governor of Arkansas while Newt Gingrich is somewhat ethically challenged in his personal life. It is difficult to determine the dynamics of these factors in ultimate voting behavior, but factors like race, gender, age and, yes, religion are better predictive determinants.
I am not in any conceivable way saying this is correct. But to deny that someone’s religion or race does not figure into one’s behavior and decision making in the voting booth is a naive view. Not that long ago, people fretted about a politician from Massachusetts being President because he was Catholic- and that was a more mainstream religion than Mormonism. In fact, several polls show that 40% of the population do not even know what Mormonism is or that it is even a Christian-based religion. My guess is that an equal number of people view Mormonism as a religion as those who think its a cult. Those are facts. That is what must be overcome. With the stakes incredibly higher in 2012 than they were in 2008, it is a bigger risk.
It may very well turn out that Mitt Romney or even Huntsman win this horse race and oppose Obama in 2012. If so, as a Republican, I would naturally support and vote for Romney despite his religion. It may so happen that he is the best choice when the primary in my state rolls around. I am not talking about the more enlightened voters who can overcome factors like religion and race when voting and I would surmise that there are more enlightened voters here on RedState than exist in the general population, or even among the primary voters. But, I cannot deny reality and cold hard facts and anectdotal evidence. Most people I know in mainstream religions have a neutral view of Mitt Romney and Mormonism, although they are cognizant of the fact. Meanwhile, the evangelical people I know invariably note his religion first and foremost.
The last thing I hope for is the “balkanization” of the Republican Party, especially if its based on religion. I would suppose that if Romney were to win the nomination, most conservatives, be they evangelical or not, would vote for Romney since the Democratic choice is less palatable. Unless they had a choice like “none of the above” or, even worse, a third party or independent candidate to rally around and siphon votes from Romney. Then, I can almost guarantee that we lost the White House because of our candidate’s religion.
Regardless, it is important that whoever the candidate is for the Republican Party, we, despite our philosophical or even religious differences, support the winner. The alternative, another four years of an unfettered liberal Barack Obama, is unacceptable.
DANIELS FOR PRESIDENT- 2012