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Much has been made in recent days of a new Gallup poll that shows the percentage of Americans who would not vote for a Mormon hasn’t moved since 1967, when pollsters asked the question in regard to Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney. The figure was 17 percent then; it’s 18 percent now — a statistical tie given the margin of error.
That part didn’t interest me so much. What I found fascinating was the question in the poll that asked Americans, “Do you happen to know the religious faith of Mitt Romney. (If yes) can you tell me what Mitt Romney’s religious faith is?”
Only 57 percent identified him as Mormon. Six percent thought he had no religion; 2 percent thought he was a Catholic; another 2 percent thought he was Protestant.
And 33 percent said they didn’t know.
Given all the chatter going on out there (I follow news stories about Romney and the “Mormon moment” every day), this tells me something important. A lot of Americans are simply disengaged from the political process.
They’re doing something else. Their minds are elsewhere. They may vote in November, but they won’t be thinking about that for a while.
And when they do, who knows if religion will be a factor?
As for the rest of the poll, Doyle McManus of the L.A. Times offers a good perspective. The anti-Mormon bias it reflected has as much to do with politics as anything. Republicans seem to be rallying around Romney, regardless of his religion. Among Democrats, 24 percent say they’re not tolerant enough to do such a thing.
Most likely, that’s because Romney is the presumptive Republican candidate, and Harry Reid isn’t the Democratic candidate.
McManus writes, “The one worry for Romney, in a close election, lies in that tiny sliver of swing voters who are up for grabs.” Among them, 18 percent won’t vote for a Mormon, which could be a problem.
However, Gallup’s web site puts all this into some historical context.
“For example, a May 1960 Gallup poll found that 21 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a well-qualified candidate who was a Catholic, but Catholic John F. Kennedy went on to win the presidency that fall.”
Americans, it seems, may use more than one criterion when choosing a president.
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Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist of the Deseret News. He has 32 years experience as a reporter, editor and editorial writer in Oklahoma, New York City, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. He also has been an adjunct journalism professor at Brigham Young and Weber State universities.