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News Release | New Survey: Only 4-in-10 Americans Correctly Identify Romney’s Religion as Mormon, Unchanged Since July

[10.27.2011]

Source of Cain’s Strength is Combined Political and Religious Affinity among Evangelicals

Washington, D.C. – Despite continued media attention to presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion, only about four-in-ten Americans (42 percent) correctly identify Romney as Mormon, a new survey finds. This level of knowledge remains unchanged from July 2011, even after the controversy surrounding the disparaging remarks about the Mormon faith by a prominent evangelical leader.

The new PRRI Religion & Politics Tracking Survey finds white evangelical Protestants are the only subgroup that demonstrates increased knowledge of Romney’s religion (53% today compared to 44% in July). The survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, also finds that registered voters are more likely than Americans overall to correctly identify Romney’s religion (49 percent, compared to 42 percent respectively).

“The increase in knowledge of Romney’s Mormon faith among evangelicals is potentially problematic for Romney, since we know from our research that 6-in-10 evangelicals do not see the Mormon faith to be a Christian religion,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “As more evangelical voters identify Romney as a Mormon, the question will be whether he can bridge the religious gap with shared political values.”

The survey also reveals why Herman Cain found an opening in the Republican primary field.

“The sources of Cain’s strength are Romney and Perry’s weaknesses,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Especially for the GOP primary, where white evangelical Protestants play a prominent role, candidates need to connect with voters on both shared political and religious values. Romney is strong on political affinity, but weaker on religious affinity. Perry is weaker on political affinity but stronger on religious affinity. Cain is strong on both political and religious affinity among evangelical voters.”

Among the Findings:

Only 42% of Americans can correctly identify Mitt Romney’s religion as Mormon. This level of knowledge remains unchanged from July 2011, when 4-in-10 (40%) Americans correctly identified Mitt Romney’s religion as Mormon.

  • White evangelical Protestants are the only subgroup that demonstrates increased knowledge of Romney’s religion (53% today compared to 44% in July).
  • College graduates and seniors (age 65 and up) are most likely to correctly identify Romney as Mormon (66% and 62% respectively).
  • Republicans (52%) and members of the Tea Party movement (52%) are significantly more likely to correctly identify Romney’s religion than Independents (41%) or Democrats (36%).

Registered voters are more likely than Americans overall to correctly identify Romney’s religion. Nearly half (49%) of voters are able to correctly identify Romney’s religion, compared to 42% of Americans overall.

Mitt Romney: Republican and white evangelical Protestant voters are more than twice as likely to identify with his political views than with his religious views.

  • More than one-quarter (26%) of Republican voters say that Romney is the Republican presidential candidate whose political views are closest to their own, but only 1-in-10 (10%) Republican voters report that Romney is the candidate whose religious beliefs are closest to their own.
  • This same pattern is evident among white evangelical Protestant voters. Twenty-one percent say that Romney is the candidate whose political views are closest to their own, but less than 1-in-10 (8%) say that, compared to other GOP presidential candidates, Romney’s religious beliefs are closest to their own.

Herman Cain: Significant numbers of Republican and white evangelical Protestant voters identify with his political views and his religious views.

  • One quarter (25%) of Republican voters say that Herman Cain is the Republican presidential candidate whose political views are closest to their own, compared to about 1-in-5 (19%) Republican voters who say his religious beliefs are closest to their own.
  • The pattern is roughly similar among white evangelical Protestant voters. More than one-quarter (26%) of white evangelical voters say that, compared to other candidates, Herman Cain’s political views are closest to their own, while about 1-in-5 (20%) say his religious beliefs are closest to their own.

Rick Perry: Among Republican and white evangelical Protestant voters, Perry trails both Romney and Cain on measures of political affinity, and is roughly even with Cain on measures of religious affinity.

  • Nearly equal numbers of Republican voters say that Rick Perry’s political views (15%) and religious beliefs (17%) are closest to their own.
  • By contrast, white evangelical voters are nearly twice as likely to say Perry’s religious beliefs are closest to their own (22%) than to say his political views are closest to their own (12%).

Read the Topline Questionnaire including the survey methodology here.

The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between October 19, 2011 and October 23, 2011 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,019 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States (294 respondents were interviews on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

Public Religion Research Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan research and education organization dedicated to work at the intersection of religion, values and public life.
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