Poll Shows American Bias Against Mormons

In case you haven’t noticed, Mitt Romney has been criticized by a lot of people, including Boston Daily, for all but refusing to talk about Mormonism. (For the record, we have nothing against Mormons; we do, however, have a problem with presidential candidates declaring certain topics off-limits.) That’s why tomorrow is a huge day for Romney: He’ll be in Texas to deliver a speech titled “Faith in America.”

The speech couldn’t come at a better time. Yesterday, professors from Vanderbilt and Claremont graduate schools released polling data that reveals what many Americans believe about Romney’s religion.

Let’s just say Joseph Smith would be upset.
The study was done online during mid-November and asked questions of “a national representative sample of 1200 people. An additional “600 ‘born-again’ Southerners also participated.” The end result, according to the research, was “intense bias” against Mormonism.

Here are some of the study’s key findings:

* Bias against Mormons is significantly more intense among the public compared to bias against women and blacks. The bias against Mormons is even more pronounced among conservative Evangelicals. Their bias against Mormons rivals their bias against atheists.
Only about half the nation claims to even know a Mormon or to know that Romney is Mormon.

* The extent of the bias against Romney is moderated if the individual already knows that he is Mormon. That information seems to demystify the Mormon religion, making people more tolerant of the religion. Those who do not know Romney is Mormon exhibit much greater bias upon learning of his religion.

* When participants in the survey are provided information that stereotypes Mormons, such as ‘Mormons are part of a non-Christian cult” or “Mormons are polygamists,” they react negatively to Romney’s candidacy.

* Participants react favorably to messages that dispel the negative stereotypes about Mormons. Examples would be “about a hundred years ago the Mormon Church banned polygamy,” or “the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints stresses traditional family values.” However, simple appeals for religious tolerance do not win over support for Romney from the respondents.

Yikes. That’s generally bad news for Romney, though there is some hope that he may be able to “demystify the Mormon religion” with honest, straightforward talk. Hence, why tomorrow’s speech at the George H.W. Bush Library in College Station, Texas, is so important. Still, it may not be the panacea the Romney campaign hopes.

According to Vanderbilt Professor John Geer, there’s some political peril associated with tomorrow’s address:

“Depending upon how the speech is designed, it could stir latent bias by activating certain interests of the voting public,” he said. “However, those who are biased against Mormons are not necessarily hardened in their positions.”

Regardless of the risk, opening up on this topic — rather than obstinately refusing to discuss it, as he has for much of the campaign — is the right thing for Romney to do. When you’re running for president, you don’t get to pick the questions, you only get to provide the answers.