Yes, Gov. Romney is a Mormon. We are not. According to the liberal media, this is an unbridgeable gap, and evangelicals will never turn out to support a faithful Mormon like Governor Romney. As usual, the media have it wrong. And they root their error (as usual) in a fundamental misunderstanding about American evangelicals—seeing us as ignorant and intolerant simpletons who are incapable of making sophisticated political value judgments. ~Evangelicals for Mitt

A reader has alerted me to this pro-Romney site.  It is worth a look to see the arguments of evangelicals who are willing to look past Romney’s Mormonism and support him based on shared policy views.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think evangelicals who refuse to vote for Romney because of his Mormonism are “intolerant simpletons” incapable of making “sophisticated political value judgements.”  I think these evangelicals actually believe someone’s religion really matters for the formation of his worldview and they actually prefer having a Christian, probably preferably a Christian who shares their entire faith and experience as evangelicals, as the person to represent them.  This is completely understandable and even laudable.  There are evangelicals for whom Mormonism is a bridge too far, and there are those for whom it is not, but the first group outnumbers the latter and, I suspect, feels much more strongly about it.  In the primaries, the antis will overwhelm the pros. 

Back to the quote.  Perhaps it is because of their disdain for evangelicals that the liberal media have played up Romney’s Mormonism as being in conflict with evangelical voters, or perhaps it is because they enjoy pushing the “religious politics has come back to haunt the GOP” narrative, or perhaps it is just because they like to report on conflict that will generate interest in presidential election reporting in early 2007 when most people are more concerned with the NFL playoffs or paying off their Christmas bills.  I don’t know the real reason why they’re talking about it. 

But it probably has something to do with anecdotal evidence of anti-Mormon opposition among evangelicals and the slightly more scientific evidence that half of all evangelicals would never consider voting for a Mormon.  It certainly has to do with evidence that four out of ten voters from the general population would likewise not even consider it.  Maybe the other approximately half of evangelicals will enthusiastically vote for him and “evangelicals for Mitt” will not have the odd, out-of-place sound to it that “hawks for Kucinich” or “pacifists for Gingrich” have.  Even so, losing half of the evangelical vote before he was even officially in the race on the Mormon issue alone is a political death blow to an avowedly social conservative candidate. 

Let’s go back to those Rasmussen numbers and look at how they break down.  Who are these anti-Mormon voters?  It turns out that they are from pretty much every possible group.  Some are more likely to refuse consideration of such a vote, but there are high levels (30%+)of resistance across the board.  Remember that this is a straight-up yes or no question: would you ever consider voting for a Mormon for President?  Those opposed are not leaving Romney any room with which he can work: they will never consider it.

43% of Catholics say they would never consider voting for a Mormon, and 36% of Protestants (classified separately from evangelicals) and 53% of evangelicals say the same.  That’s a lot of people with religious affiliations who say, “No, thank you” when presented with a Mormon presidential candidate.  That’s without asking any other questions of him.  What about his policy views, his “values”?  These are apparently irrelevant. 

Opposition intensifies in direct proportion to a voter’s frequency of religious attendance: only 37% of those who rarely or never attend services are unwilling, 44% of weekly attendees are unwilling to consider such a vote and 59% of people who attend services more than once a week are unwilling.  This makes sense.  The more practically religious you are, the more a candidate’s religious identity will probably matter to you.  But that doesn’t get away from the startling fact that over a third of people who almost never go into a church will never vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.  Against such huge numbers and strong opposition no candidate can hope to prevail.  There is not enough time, even if he had the luxury of trying, to “educate” the voters on what it means to be Mormon.  This education is almost certainly needed, if only to root out egregious and obvious errors of fact that have lodged in the public consciousness, but the middle of a presidential campaign is neither the time nor the place for it.  In popular culture (see Big Love or Entourage), mainstream Mormonism is still associated, incorrectly, with polygamy, which has not been helped by Romney hamming it up with jokes about marriage being between “a man and a woman…and a woman and a woman.”  Yes, that’s very droll, Mitt, but it only works if everyone knows that Mormons no longer practice polygamy.  It would not be a surprise to me if a great many people still don’t know that or if they easily confuse Mormon splinter groups with the main LDS church.  In any case, Romney is banking on the public being relatively well-informed about the internal affairs of a relatively obscure religious group with which most people have no dealings, and this is a losing bet.   

The chances of a Mormon candidate are worse among women than among just about any other group: 47% would not consider voting for one for President, while only 38% of men would not.  Party affiliation does seem to make some significant difference.  Pat yourselves on the backs, Republicans–you are marginally more accepting of Mormon presidential candidates than much of the rest of America!  Among Republicans, 42% would consider voting for a Mormon, 40% wouldn’t.  Among Democrats, opposition is greater (32% willing vs. 51% unwilling).  Of the three options, those not affiliated with either are least likely to be opposed to considering a vote for a Mormon (42/33).

Ideology does not seem to matter in determining a refusal to support a Mormon candidate.  Each group (conservative, moderate, liberal) has equally high levels of refusal to consider such a vote (43, 44, 41% respectively).  Liberals are slightly more likely (44%) to consider voting for a Mormon, and conservatives the next most likely (39%).  Curiously enough, “moderates” are the least willing (34%).  People of indeterminate ideology (”not sure”) are just as opposed (43%) and even less willing to consider voting for a Mormon (25%).  The conservative numbers seem to mirror the overall national results of 38% willing to consider a vote and 43% unwilling.  Obviously, if Romney loses almost half of conservatives from the beginning before he even opens his mouth, he has no realistic chance in the primaries.  To have a fighting chance, he would have to get every single vote of those who are open to voting for a Mormon, and he simply isn’t going to get all those votes.

How important a candidate’s faith is to voters heavily determines opposition.  Among those who say it is “very important,” opposition is intense (59%), and among those who say it is “somewhat important” opposition is still considerable (38%).  Almost inexplicably, though, among those for whom a candidate’s faith is “not very” or “not at all important” there are still large numbers who would never consider such a vote (31 and 30% respectively).  There is clearly not just an intense religious opposition to a Mormon presidential candidate, but what seems to be a generalised, nationwide, cross-cutting cultural hostility that can be found in virtually every group of people in America. 

If Mitt Romney could somehow get himself elected President in the midst of this, he would have to be considered one of the great political and campaigning geniuses of the last century.  No offense to Gov. Romney, but however good he is he isn’t that good of a campaigner.  I don’t think someone with the political skills of Clinton and Reagan combined could pull this off.  What he is trying to do is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.  At best he might hope for a few decent second-place finishes in a few places and shoot for the VP slot, but even in that case his Mormonism seems likely to be a weight that will drag any GOP ticket down (after all, if all these people won’t vote for a Mormon for President, why would they vote for a Mormon to be first in line for the Presidency?).

With all of this in mind, there is something that needs to be said clearly and as often as necessary to make the point: Romney’s religion is a problem not just for the Jacob Weisbergs and evangelicals out there, but it is more or less a problem to some large degree for every kind of non-Mormon American out there.  It roughly splits the country down the middle between those who would never even consider the possibility of a Mormon President and those who are open to that possibility.  It would be worth inquiring how it is that Mormons can be distrusted this much by such a wide variety of people.  Christians are obviously more likely to view Mormonism poorly for religious reasons, and secularists are apt to view it at least as poorly as they view other religions, but how exactly does anti-Mormonism become such a general phenomenon such that at least one-third of every group into which they broke down this polling information was firmly opposed to a Mormon President?  Is it mainly a product of Christian opposition to Mormon theological errors?  Is it leftover disdain for past polygamous practices being transferred to the modern church?