Poll: Romney's faith a factor in primaries, not general election

Poll: Romney's faith a factor in primaries, not general election

By Rebecca Stewart, CNN | Posted - Nov. 23, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.

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ATLANTA -- If half the public says they don't know very much about Mormonism and one-third of Republicans say the Mormon religion is not a Christian faith, how will GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney fare in his bid for the White House?

According to a new national survey, it won't affect Romney in a hypothetical general election faceoff with President Barack Obama, but his Mormon faith may have an impact on the former Massachusetts governor's chances in the GOP primaries and caucuses.

Romney is seeking the Republican presidential nomination for a second time and, as it turns out, opinions about his religion haven't changed since he ran the first time, in 2007.

How much do you know about Mormon religion?

Great deal/some49%48%
Not much/nothing50%52%
Don't know/refused1%1%

A Pew Research Center poll released late Tuesday indicates that 52 percent of Americans said they knew "not very much" or nothing about the Mormon religion in 2007, when Romney sought the presidency for the first time, and 50 percent say the same now. The number who say Mormonism is a Christian religion -- 51 percent --is the same in 2011 as it was in 2007.

The poll also indicates that Republican voters who say Mormonism is not a Christian religion are less likely to support Romney for the GOP nomination. Romney's faith may have a bigger impact on his chances in the GOP primary than the general election.

When asked about their preference among eight Republican contenders, Romney edged out businessman Herman Cain for the top spot in the poll 23-22 percent among GOP registered voters. The one-percentage-point difference between the two candidates falls within the sampling error for the poll and indicates Cain and Romney are statistically tied among Republicans and GOP-leaning voters.

About the poll
  • Conducted Nov. 9-14 by telephone
  • 1,576 registered voters and 716 Republicans and Republican-leaning voters
  • Overall sampling error is +/- 2.5 percentage points
  • Sampling error for Republican and Republican-leaning voters is +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Among white evangelical Protestants, however, Cain has a nine percentage point lead over Romney - 26 percent said they'd choose the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza in a GOP primary, 19 percent said they'd choose former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and 17 percent said they'd support Romney, placing him third. Fifteen percent of evangelicals also said Romney's faith would make them less likely to support him.

When white Catholics and white "mainline" Protestants were questioned about their primary picks, Romney placed first, Cain second, and Gingrich third.

But in a hypothetical general election matchup between Romney and the incumbent President Barack Obama, 87 pecent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters would coalesce around Romney, a number that increases to 91 percent among white evangelical Protestants, the group that favored Cain for the nomination.

Tied with Catholics, the poll shows more white evangelical Protestants and Catholics back Romney over Obama in a general election than white "mainline" Protestants - 84 percent said they'd choose Romney in the poll.

So while he may have more competition in the GOP primary among evangelicals, if Romney advances to the general, the poll reveals he'd have their support.

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Rebecca Stewart


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