Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Could LDS Affiliation Hurt Romney's Presidential Bid?

I have written about this before, but it has come up again:
"The latest Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll caught many observers by surprise. The surprise came from the high percentage, according to this poll, who say they wouldn't vote for a Mormon for president.
That Bloomberg/LA Times poll of 1,300 adults nationwide finds 37-percent say they wouldn't vote for a Mormon. By comparison, 22-percent of registered voters say they wouldn't support an evangelical Christian. 14-percent wouldn't back a Jewish candidate. Nine-percent wouldn't vote for a Catholic and 53-percent say they wouldn't cast a ballot for a Muslim. "

Interesting, because wasn't one of the reasons Orrin Hatch ran for President was to promote the Mormon faith and "pave the way" for someone to come after?

I swear I heard that said, if someone can find it they win the prize.

Mitt Romney will struggle through South Carolina, but if he can have a strong showing in New Hampshire and Michigan he may survive. I just don't think he could beat John McCain or Rudy Guiliani. The evangelicals will probably go with Huckabee from Arkansas (which may decide the election in 2008, especially if someone named Clinton is on the ballot, they are not as red as some people think)


Jeff Fuller said...

I posted this at my blog earlier today.

Yesterday, there were two articles (one in Bloomberg that is not linking well www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=aJ_rhbEL7ldw&refer=home -- from this blog and one here (LA Times) reporting on a poll gauging what religions Americans feel least comfortable about in hypothetical presidential candidates.

If there's one thing I know, it's to NOT trust the conclusions (or even impressions) of journalists when they are analyzing data (sure, there are some really bright ones . . . but it's pretty well established that, among educated adults, they aren't the bastion of brains that many would have you believe). Also, I always look at the source of information when gauging it's possible "agenda", and the L.A. Times is well recognized as one of the most liberal news sources in the nation; that they may want to cast doubt on a prominent GOP candidate who stands to draw significant support moderate voters is not surprising.

Also, to reach sound conclusions one must start with sound premises . . . in this case, a poll must ask the right questions and to the right people (I think that the actual questions asked should be made public if they are going to publicly publish the "results.") This poll, unfortunately, neither ask the right questions nor did it ask the right people; the resulting incorrect conclusions may discourage some potential Romney supporters.

First off, the explanation of how the poll was conducted states

"The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,321 adults nationwide by telephone June 24 through 27. . . . Results were weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region."

Conforming with census figures is a bad way to gauge what "likely voters" would do in at the ballot box. The number opposed to a hypothetical Mormon candidate dropped to 35% among registered voters and, I would guess, would drop even more among those that actually would make the effort to get to the polls (AKA "likely voters").

"Support for a Mormon candidate tends to rise with education and income levels, the poll shows. Sixty-six percent of college graduates and 70 percent of those with incomes of more than $100,000 a year say they could vote for a Mormon presidential candidate."

So the number drops to 34 % for college graduates and 30% for high income earners. So, who are these 30% of high income earners that are opposed to a hypothetical LDS presidential candidate? I propose that nearly all of these are Democrats, mostly coming from self-described "liberal Democrats" who, as a political group, are the most intolerant to the idea of a Mormon president at 50%. They know that Mormons are, almost invariably, the antithesis of their pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, socially and fiscally liberal platform and policies. Obviously, this large block of voters won't matter in the GOP primary, and I don't think Romney would be expecting to get their vote in a general election anyways. So I count them as a non-factor.

As the articles describe, there is as much political ideology represented in the 37% figure as possibly, anything else. How else do you explain the following?

" . . . 22 percent of registered voters say they wouldn't support an evangelical Christian . . ."

The same group of liberal Democrats are rearing their heads here. One alternative explanation is that there is a proportion of moderate or fiscally conservative Republicans that are opposed to strongly religious hypothetical candidates (still wary of the sometimes radical "religious Right").

So, in an attempt to exclude these politically calculating liberal Democrats simple subtraction between the "registered voters" opposed to Mormons (35%) and Evangelicals (22%) is only 13% (I will address this remaining 13% below.) These two religious groups are as near to "block voters" for Republicans as any of the other religious designations and so the opposition to them is understandable.

"14 percent wouldn't back a Jewish candidate, and 9 percent say no to a Catholic. Fifty-three percent say they wouldn't vote for a Muslim."

Catholics are definitely more politically diverse as evidenced by prominent politicians on both sided of the aisle; Sam Brownback and Jeb Bush for the Republicans/John Kerry and the Kennedy's for the Democrats. Most people have either already voted for a Catholic for president (Democrats/Independents) or know they would support someone like Jeb Bush.

The Jewish number can be ascribed, in part, to the fact that people are hesitant to fulfill the stereotype of being an anti-Semite. Also, the popularity of Joe Lieberman comes into play . . . again, because nearly all Democrats have recently already voted for a Jew on a presidential ticket. I don't completely buy the conclusion from the articles that Americans are really that much more tolerant of Catholic or Jewish religions than the other religions listed.

This highlights a major point, that we are all creatures of habit and generally fear to tread into the unknown. Who can say that they've already voted for a Mormon for a high office? The percentage has to be somewhere in the low single digits. This is part of the reason that their implication that Mormonism is a major obstacle for Romney is vastly overblown.

So, back to the 13% difference between Mormons and Evangelicals . . . this is the only percentage that I think potentially relates to a religious/doctrinal objection to a hypothetical LDS presidential candidate and the only percentage that would matter in a GOP primary or among the "swing vote" in a general election. This fits pretty closely with the 1998-9 figure from the fledgling Orrin Hatch campaign where 17% of Evangelicals said that they wouldn't vote for a Mormon (I think I'm quoting that one right . . . I've heard it lots, but if anyone could point me to the source I would appreciate it!)

Turning those two figures on their head, we could stretch to say that 83% of Evangelicals would vote for a Mormon and 87% of people from the recent poll do not have a religious/doctrinal objection to a hypothetical LDS candidate. Any viable candidate could work with those numbers!

But wait, there's more! (Is this reading link an "infomercial" yet?). The religious objection will assuredly abate as the campaign wears on. Much of the objection is based on misinformation or lack of information altogether. As people realize that Mormons haven't practiced polygamy for over 100 years, that Mormons believe all that Christ taught and view him as the Savior, and that Mormons are pretty darn normal people in day to day life who usually try to live what they believe, there will be less and less concern about having one as a Chief Executive.

However, the majority of any remaining objection will disappear as people evaluate Romney as a candidate and are impressed with his candor, accomplishments, and policies. In the end, I see the fact that Romney is LDS being the deciding factor for maybe 3-7% in a GOP primary and definitely less than 5% in a general election. This handicap will be offset by the strong grassroots movement and financial support that individual mormons will give to Romney, especially in a swing state like here in Iowa.

History tends to repeat itself . . . the LA Times article says:

"Indeed, in a Roper Poll from June 1960, 35% of respondents said either that it might be better not to have a Catholic president or that they would be against it. Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy gave a speech on the subject of his religion that September, and he was elected president two months later."

So, the answer to the question in my title about what factor is responsible for the 37% is, not surprisingly, "All of the above."

Demosthenes said...

I'd be willing to wager that Governor Romney is already making plans for VP bids. A McCain-Romney duo would be strong against any Democratic contendor for President.

Anonymous said...

I hope McCain is NOWHERE on the ballot. Sorry Demosthenes.

Steve said...

You should read the comments from Mara Liasson's post on NPR's Mixed Signals blog titled "Is a Member of a Cult Running for President?" about when Robert Novak wrote an editorial about how many evangelicals won't vote for a Mormon. Several people disagreed with his assessment.

Mike Ridgway, Salt Lake City said...

Mitt Romney has a problem telling the truth. When he dropped the f-bombs on the volunteers at a particular 2002 Olympic venue, his police escorts were reportedly put under gag orders to not answer questions from the press as to whether accusations leveled against him by the volunteers were true.

Is there any doubt that he was guilty as charged? But all he could manage was a feeble, "well if I said anything, it was maybe an h - e - double hockey sticks."

And then there's the residency scandal.

Haven't we had enough of cute in the White House in the last fourteen years?

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike ~ to what 'residency scandal' are you referring??

Utah Conservative said...

If I remember correctly, there was a question of whether he lived in MA or UT when he ran.

Gary said...

Don't count Romney out because he's LDS. There's a group of Evangelical supporters of Mitt Romney who make a very good point:

"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 Mitt 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.

To be perfectly clear, we believe Gov. Romney is not only acceptable to conservative Christians, but that he is clearly the best choice for people of faith. He is right on all the issues, and he has proven his positions with actions. He is a gifted and persuasive spokesman for our political and moral values. Here is the bottom line: the 2008 election is for president, not pastor. We would never advocate that the Governor become our pastor or lead our churches—we disagree with him profoundly on theological issues. But we reject the notion that the president of the United States has to be in perfect harmony with our religious doctrine. In fact, that is not a test that has been applied before—after all, Jimmy Carter was probably more theologically in line with evangelicals than Ronald Reagan, yet we believe that Reagan was clearly the better choice in 1980."