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Why Mormonism might not be a problem for Mitt Romney

A poll released Wednesday suggests that a minority of Americans are 'entirely comfortable' with the idea of a Mormon president. But voters' concerns about the problems facing the country might override any concern they have about Mitt Romney's religion.

By Staff writer / June 8, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters after speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington June 3.

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The latest Quinnipiac poll reinforces the idea that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could face problems over his Mormon faith in his quest for the presidency.

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The poll, released Wednesday, found that only 35 percent of American voters are “entirely comfortable” with the idea of having a president who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That falls well below American comfort levels with a Catholic president (60 percent), Jewish president (55 percent), and Evangelical Christian (43 percent), but ahead of an atheist (24 percent) or a Muslim (21 percent).

Most American presidents have adhered to mainline Protestant religions, with the Catholic President Kennedy being an important, groundbreaking exception.

When voters were asked if they have a generally favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Mormon religion, only 45 percent said “favorable,” according to the poll, conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn. Thirty-two percent said “unfavorable” and 23 percent either didn’t know or gave no answer.

“The fact that less than half of the voters have a favorable view of the religion is likely to be a political issue that Gov. Mitt Romney, and should his campaign catch on, Gov. Jon Huntsman, will have to deal with as they pursue the White House,” writes Peter Brown, the institute’s assistant director.

But it may just be, with all the pressing issues the nation faces, a candidate’s religion will rank far down in the list of priorities when voters go to the polls. The big concerns GOP voters express about Mr. Romney center on his Massachusetts health-care reform and his past policy flip-flops, not his religion.

For both Romney and Mr. Huntsman – like Romney the scion of a wealthy, Mormon family – the faith issue appears less of a problem with Republicans than with Democrats. The Quinnipiac poll found that a slim majority of Republicans – 51 percent – have a favorable opinion of the Mormon religion, versus 39 percent of Democrats. Thirty-one percent of Republicans have a negative view.

In addition, 68 percent of Republicans are comfortable with the idea of a Mormon president, compared with 49 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents. One might conclude, then, that Romney’s (or Huntsman’s) Mormon faith would be less of an issue in the GOP primary than in the general election.

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