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Mormons like Mitt Romney more than Jon Huntsman but question his electability

A new survey shows a large discrepancy in how American Mormons view the two Mormon candidates for president, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. But many doubt that America is ready to elect a Mormon president. 

By Dave CookStaff writer / January 12, 2012

Republican presidential candidates Jon Hunstman Jr. (l.) and Mitt Romney (r.) (shown here with Rick Santourm) participate in a debate in Concord, N.H., Sunday.

Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

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Washington

Americans who identify themselves as Mormons rate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney much more highly than they do former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a new survey finds.

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Both Republican presidential candidates are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), as the church is formally known.   

While Mormons view Mr. Romney in a very positive light, only 56 percent think Americans are ready to elect someone of their faith as president. Three of five respondents said Americans know little or nothing about their church, and almost half (46 percent) said there is a lot of discrimination against members of their church.

These findings come from a new survey of Mormons by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. It is the first such survey ever conducted by a non-LDS research organization.

Among Mormons, there is a sharp difference in favorability ratings between Romney and Mr. Huntsman, according to the survey, conducted from Oct. 25 to Nov 16. Some 86 percent view Romney favorably, while only 10 percent view him unfavorably. By contrast, 50 percent have a favorable view of Huntsman, while 24 percent view him unfavorably.    

Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is seen in a much harsher light by the public as a whole, which gives him a 38 percent favorable and a 45 percent unfavorable rating, Pew said. Comparable data were not provided for Huntsman.

Both men were viewed in a kinder light by their co-religionists than was Senate majority leader Harry Reid, the most prominent Democrat who is a Mormon. Senator Reid is viewed positively by only 22 percent of Mormons and unfavorably by 51 percent.    

The poll did not probe for the reasons behind the differing approval ratings. But the researchers found that 66 percent of Mormons consider themselves conservative, versus 37 percent of the general public. And among Mormons surveyed, 74 percent say they are Republican or lean Republican versus 17 percent who identify with Democrats.  

Mormons' strong party affiliation with Republicans does not explain why Romney is viewed more favorably than Huntsman. One possible factor, noted by CNN religion editor Dan Gilgoff in a blog, is how each man has described his ties to the religion.

Huntsman told Fortune magazine that, “I can’t say I am overly religious.” He added, “I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies.”

Romney, on the other hand, is well known for his active role as a lay leader in the Boston area Mormon Church. In a 2007 speech, he noted that some “would prefer if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction or disavow one or another of its precepts.”  

To which he responded, “That I will not do.”

In one high-profile example of the potential political drawbacks of Romney's faith, the Rev. Robert Jeffress called Mormonism a "cult" at the Values Voter Summit in October.

While there is a considerable feeling among Mormons of being misunderstood, 63 percent of those surveyed said that acceptance of Mormonism was on the rise. Moreover, Mormons also said that gays and lesbians as well as Muslims suffer more discrimination.

Overall, 1.9 percent of US adults describe themselves as Mormon. The survey of 1,019 adult Mormons has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Election 101: Nine things to know about Mitt Romney

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