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News Release | Evangelical Voters Strongly Support Romney Despite Religious Differences

[05.10.2012]

Washington, DC— Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney holds a nearly 50-point lead over President Barack Obama (68 percent vs. 19 percent) among white evangelical Protestant voters, a new survey finds.

The survey also finds that even among the nearly half (49 percent) of evangelical voters who say that Romney’s religious beliefs are different than their own, Romney still holds a 3-to-1 lead over Obama (67 percent vs. 22 percent). Among all voters, however, Obama leads Romney, (47 percent vs. 38 percent). Thirteen percent of voters report having no preference for either candidate at this point in the race.

The new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, was released ahead of Romney’s commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday, which has been reported as Romney’s attempt to reach out to the evangelical community after a contentious primary process.

“The survey signals that white evangelical Protestant voters are moving beyond the reservations they may have held earlier in the campaign about Romney’s Mormon faith,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “While two-thirds of white evangelical voters say that it is generally important that a presidential candidate share their religious beliefs, their differences with Romney on religion are not translating into a significant lack of support at the ballot box.”

The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey also finds that since October 2011, knowledge of both Romney’s Mormon faith and his favorability have increased among white evangelical voters. Knowledge about Romney’s religion has risen 8 points, from 55 percent in October 2011 to 63 percent today. At the same time, Romney’s favorability among evangelical voters has increased 27 points, from 40 percent in October 2011 to 67 percent today.

“Now that Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee, evangelicals are looking ahead to the general election,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “These findings are further evidence that both sides seem willing, if not eager, to mend fences.”

Among the Findings:

The 2012 Election

Overall, Obama maintains a significant lead over Romney among voters in a head-to-head match up (47 percent vs. 38 percent). However, 16 percent of voters have not committed to either candidate.

  • Equal numbers of Democratic and Republican voters report that they would support their party’s nominee (82 percent respectively). Obama holds a slight edge among Independent voters, with 42 percent reporting that if the election were held today, they would vote for Obama, and 37 percent reporting they would support Romney. One-in-five (20 percent) Independent voters do not voice a preference between the two candidates.
  • There are large divisions in voting preferences by religious affiliation.
    • White evangelical voters strongly support Romney over Obama (68 percent vs. 19 percent).
    • Catholic voters overall say that they would be more likely to vote for Obama than Romney (46 percent to 39 percent), although white Catholic voters strongly favor Romney over Obama (54 percent vs. 34 percent).
    • Obama has an advantage over Romney among white mainline Protestant voters (50 percent vs. 37 percent) and religiously unaffiliated voters (57 percent vs. 22 percent).

Importance of Presidential Candidates Sharing Religious Beliefs of Voters

When asked directly, a majority (58 percent) of voters say that it is not too important or not at all important for a presidential candidate to share their religious beliefs, although a significant minority (41 percent) believe that it is somewhat or very important.

  • Among white evangelical voters, two-thirds (67 percent) say it is somewhat or very important for a presidential candidate to share their religious beliefs.
  • In contrast, fewer than 4-in-10 white mainline Protestant voters (34 percent) and Catholic voters (39 percent) say this is important.

Knowledge of Romney’s Faith: October 2011 and Today

Since October 2011, few additional voters overall have become aware of Romney’s faith. In October, 49 percent of voters reported that Romney was Mormon, compared to 51 percent today. Another 12 percent identify him generally as some type of Christian (7 percent Protestant/Christian and 5 percent Catholic). Roughly one-third (35 percent) report that they are not sure what his religious beliefs are.

  • More than 6-in-10 white evangelical voters (63 percent), white mainline Protestant voters (62 percent), and Republican voters (65 percent) correctly identify Romney’s faith as Mormon.
  • Fewer than half (45 percent) of Catholic voters and Democratic voters (43 percent) correctly identify Romney as Mormon.
  • Among white evangelical Protestant and Republican voters, knowledge of Romney’s faith has increased significantly since October 2011. Among white evangelical Protestant voters, knowledge of Romney’s religion has increased from 55 percent in October 2011 to 63 percent today. In October 2011, 55 percent of Republican voters correctly identified Romney’s religion, compared to 65 percent today.
  • Romney’s favorability among these groups has increased over the same time period.
    • Romney’s favorability among white evangelical Protestants has increase 27 points since October 2011, from 40 percent to 67 percent today, although only 7 percent report having a very favorable view of him.
    • Romney’s favorability also increased by 27 points among Republican voters, from 55 percent in October to 82 percent today.

Read the Topline Questionnaire, including the survey methodology here.
Read RNS story 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 May 2, 2012 and May 6, 2012 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,006 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (300 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the entire sample is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.  The margin of error for the subset of registered voters is +/- 3.8 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.

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