More voters are “uncomfortable” with President Obama’s religion than they are with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith — but that’s mostly because many of the 19 percent concerned about Obama think he’s Muslim.
A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that 60 percent of voters can correctly identify Romney’s religion as Mormon, and of those correct responses, 13 percent are uncomfortable with it. Forty-nine percent correctly identify President Obama’s religion as Christian, while 17 percent believe he is Muslim. Among those who are are “sure” they know Obama’s faith, 19 percent say they are uncomfortable — but most of those who express discomfort believe Obama is Muslim.
But overall, the Pew report reveals little concern among voters on the two candidates’ religions, even as Romney vies to become the first Mormon elected president.
“Along religious lines, white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants, on the one hand, and atheists and agnostics on the other, are the most likely to say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith,” Pew wrote. “Yet unease with Romney’s religion has little impact on voting preferences. Republicans and white evangelicals overwhelmingly back Romney irrespective of their views of his faith, and Democrats and seculars overwhelmingly oppose him regardless of their impression.”
Romney spoke about his faith in an interview with NBC News Wednesday night. “I’m very proud of my heritage,” he told Brian Williams. “I’m — without question, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I’m proud of that. Some call that the Mormon Church, that’s fine with me. I’ll talk about my experiences in the church. There’s no question they’ve helped shape my perspective.”
The former governor’s full embrace of Mormonism, one of the first times on the campaign that he’s been so explicit about his faith, may be a way to connect with another principle of American politics also shown by the Pew data — being one religion or another may make little difference to most voters, but they like the idea that pols should have one.
Voters might be more receptive to Romney’s embrace of his faith than the faith itself. The Pew data shows voters like the idea that candidate are connected to a religion, no matter what it is: 67 percent said “It’s important to me that a president have strong religious beliefs.”
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.