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Prejudice against Mormon candidates persists, poll shows

June 20, 2011|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, right, and expected candidate Jon Huntsman are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a Gallup poll, about one in five Republicans surveyed said they would not vote for a Mormon.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, right, and expected candidate… (Reuters / Associated Press )

With one Mormon leading the pack for the Republican presidential nomination and another scheduled to announce his candidacy on Tuesday, a significant bloc of American voters continues to oppose followers of that religion, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

About one in five Republicans, or 18%, said they would not vote for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name of the Mormon church. About the same proportion of independents said they would oppose a Mormon while a larger number of Democrats, about 27%, said they were opposed, according to the poll.

The poll was conducted by telephone from June 9 to June 12 and includes a random sample of 1,020 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Prejudice against Mormons has been a measurable political factor in American politics since at least the late 1960s, with a solid group opposing members of that church. That number has varied, ranging from about 20% to as much as 30%, depending on how the polls were worded and carried out.

The finding is especially worrisome to the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, considered to be the leader in the GOP race with about 20% to 25% support. Romney in 2008 gave a speech defending his faith in the hope of deflecting fears about Mormonism.

But the numbers are also a factor for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, scheduled to formally declare his interest in the presidential nomination this week. Huntsman already faces a tough road, even in the fractured GOP field of more than half of a dozen candidates.

But one generation's prejudice often becomes a barrier that is surmounted by the next. John F. Kennedy broke through the anti-Catholic fears to win the presidency. By comparison, in 1959, the year before Kennedy became the nation's first Catholic president, 25% of Americans β€” including 22% of Democrats, 33% of Republicans and 18% of independents β€” said they would not vote for a Catholic.

Barack Obama did the same for African Americans when he became the first black president. Anti-Mormon bias has remained steady over the decades, unlike other biases that have decreased. The last time as many as one in five Americans said they would not vote for someone from other groups that have felt discrimination was 1959 for Catholics, 1961 for Jews, 1971 for blacks and 1975 for women. Since then, opposition was dwindled to single digits.

Romney and Huntsman could even be helped by the pro-religion feeling generated by some positive media, including the highly popular and acclaimed Broadway musical β€œThe Book of Mormon.”

Still, prejudice remains a political fact. According to the Gallup poll, anti-Mormonism cuts across all subgroups. There were no significant differences based on poll respondents' gender, age, region of the country or religious preference. Nor did the degree of religiosity seem to make a difference. Americans who worshiped at least weekly were no different in their attitudes from those who worshiped less frequently or not all.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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