The new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, marks the start of PRRI’s efforts to track the role of religion in the 2012 Presidential Election.
Among all Americans, President Obama holds a slight edge over both Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann in head to head matchups for the 2012 election. Forty-four percent of Americans say if the election were held today they would vote for Obama compared to 36% who say they would support Romney. Obama’s lead over Bachmann is similar (45% to 37%).
- Among those who identify with the Tea Party, Bachmann garners greater support than Romney in a matchup against Obama (78% and 71% respectively).
- Among white evangelical Protestants, Bachmann leads Obama 60% to 17%, while Romney leads Obama 55% to 18%.
Importance of Presidential Candidates’ Religious Beliefs
A majority (56%) of the public says it is very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs are the same as their own.
- Majorities of every religious group say it is important that a presidential candidate have strong religious beliefs, including white evangelicals (73%), minority Christians (74%), white mainline Protestants (57%), and Catholics (57%).
- More than 7-in-10 Republicans (71%) and those identifying with the Tea Party (72%) say it is somewhat or very important that a presidential candidate have strong religious beliefs, compared to 51% of Democrats.
- Among those who say it is somewhat or very important for a candidate to have strong religious beliefs, both Romney and Bachmann hold an advantage over Obama (Romney vs. Obama: 43% to 36%; Bachmann vs. Obama: 44% to 38%)
Knowledge about Romney’s and Obama’s Religion
Only 4-in-10 Americans correctly identify Mitt Romney as Mormon. One-in-ten say he is Protestant or Catholic. Nearly half (46%) say they do not know what Romney’s religion is.
- Television news preferences are highly correlated with knowledge of Romney’s religious affiliation. Americans who say they most trust Fox News (54%) and who most trust public television (63%) correctly say that Romney is Mormon. Only 34% of those who most trust broadcast news and only 26% of those who must trust CNN correctly identify Romney as Mormon.
- Currently, Republicans (50%) and those who identify with the Tea Party (50%) are significantly more likely than the general public (40%) to know Romney is Mormon. Only 44% of white evangelicals know Romney is Mormon.
- More than 7-in-10 Americans say that Mormons have somewhat (26%) or very (46%) different religious beliefs than their own, including 81% of white evangelicals.
- Among the nearly half (46%) of Americans who say Mormons have very different religious beliefs than their own, Obama leads Romney 49% to 28%.
Consistent with previous surveys, about 1-in-5 (18%) Americans continue to say wrongly that President Obama is a Muslim. Thirty-eight percent correctly say he is Christian (including 4% who say he is Catholic), and 4-in-10 say they do not know what his religious beliefs are.
Public Perceptions of Religious and Political Similarity: Obama, Bush, Romney and Bachmann
More Americans say Obama has religious beliefs different from their own than say Bush has religious beliefs different from their own (48% and 36% respectively). About 1-in-5 say they do not know what Obama’s (20%) or Bush’s (17%) religious beliefs are.
Perceptions of Obama’s religious beliefs are strongly correlated to support.
- Among those who say Obama’s religious beliefs are somewhat or very similar to their own, 70% say they would vote for Obama, compared to only 19% who say they would vote for Romney.
- Among those who say Obama’s religious beliefs are somewhat or very different from their own, only 32% say they would vote for Obama, compared to 48% who say they would vote for Romney.
In order to compare Obama with current Republican candidates vying for the GOP nomination, who are much less familiar to the general public, we created a scale to measure perceptions of similarities on both religious beliefs and political views. We computed an average score that runs from +2 (very similar religious beliefs or political views) to -2 (very different religious beliefs or political views). Respondents who are not familiar with the political figure or their religious beliefs or political views receive a score of 0.
- Religious similarity. Overall, Americans score Bush highest in perception of religious similarity compared to Romney, Bachmann and Obama. Bush scores 0.00 indicating that about half of those who could rate him view him similarly and equal number view him differently. Among everyone else, on balance more people say their religious beliefs are different than say they are similar to their own (Romney -0.43, Obama -0.40, and Bachmann -0.24).
- Political similarity. On the perception of political similarity, Bush scores lowest (-0.47), followed by Obama (-0.41), Romney (-0.33) and Bachmann (-0.32).
There is a generally high correlation between perceptions of political and religious similarity, but there are important significant variations. The correlation between perceptions of political and religious views is highest for Bachmann (0.728), suggesting that the public is not currently differentiating between her political and religious views. The correlation for Bush and Obama is also strong and roughly similar at 0.608 and 0.625 respectively. For Romney, the correlation is 0.522 suggesting that, more than any other candidate tested, Americans make a distinction between how much they identify with his political views and how much they identify with his religious beliefs.
The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on RDD telephone interviews conducted between July 14, 2011 and July 17, 2011 by professional interviewers under the direction of Opinion Research Corporation. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,012 adults 18 years of age or older living in private households in the continental United States. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.