WASHINGTON – Some 43 percent of Americans wouldn’t even consider voting for a Mormon for president, according to a new poll that shows an increase from previous surveys in the number of voters unwilling to support an LDS candidate for the White House.
The latest poll, released Monday, is bad news for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon Republican who is expected to make a 2008 presidential bid. Previous polls have shown a smaller share of Americans saying they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.
The Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg in June found 37 percent of those surveyed wouldn’t vote for a Mormon while other surveys from the late 1990s showed about 20 percent were opposed to a candidate from that faith.
Some 38 percent in the Rasmussen poll said they would consider voting for a Mormon, while 19 percent were unsure. Of those who identified themselves as evangelicals, 53 percent said they wouldn’t consider voting for a Mormon candidate.
Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, which conducted the survey on its own, said Romney already faces difficulty if he decides to run because he’s been governor of liberal Massachusetts and is not very well known.
“I think that any time you have a number as high as 43% saying they won’t vote for somebody it’s a surprise,” Rasmussen said. “It is one more hurdle for someone who already has a big hill to climb.” The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Nov. 16-17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Romney’s political action committee, the Commonwealth PAC, declined to comment on the poll.
“The governor has yet to make a decision whether or not he will run,” said PAC spokesman Jared Young, noting Romney will announce his decision after the first of the year.
In other poll results, Romney had a 29 percent approval rating from those who knew of him, while 30 percent disapproved of him. In a head-to-head matchup against Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, Romney trailed 39 percent to 33 percent, according to Rasmussen.
Of course, only 19 percent of those surveyed could name Romney as the Mormon candidate from a list of six potential presidential contenders, Rasmussen reported.
Rick Beltram, an evangelical and chairman of the South Carolina’s Spartanburg County Republican Party, says he believes the poll is probably accurate, but also noted that a generic poll does not indicate how people feel about Romney after hearing him talk about his religion.
“That’s obviously his biggest obstacle,” Beltram says of Romney’s faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “But I’ve also found that the more time that he or someone with him explains his beliefs, that’s not the case.” If Romney can dissuade voters from believing his faith is a cult, as some evangelicals view it, his support is likely to grow, Beltram says.
“His job is going to be communicate, communicate and communicate,” Beltram says.
Some 61 percent of likely voters would not even consider voting for a Muslim presidential contender while 60 percent wouldn’t vote for an atheist, the poll found.