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Southern bias against the rich, Mormons could hurt Romney

September 11, 2012|By James Rainey
  • Mitt Romney campaigns at PR Machine Works in Mansfield, Ohio.
Mitt Romney campaigns at PR Machine Works in Mansfield, Ohio. (Charles Dharapak / AP Photo )

Conventional wisdom would have it that some middle- and lower-income whites in the South might be prejudiced against voting for a black man for president. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll confirms that is true.

But in a perverse kind of good fortune for the nation’s first African American president, the survey shows that this group of Southern whites has an even bigger block against voting for a candidate who is Mormon or who they consider “very wealthy.”

Polling on these sorts of issues is, of course, a fraught proposition, with most voters unwilling to be completely honest (if they even understand the inner workings of their own brains) about how they feel about groups of people and individuals not like themselves. With the election of an African American president and the prominence of blacks in many other prominent roles in society, it has become socially unacceptable to admit (including to a polling organization) that one refuses to accept African Americans as equals.

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In any event, the Reuters survey makes clear that Mitt Romney—who is very wealthy and Mormon—has to contend with other forms of prejudice. The Republican’s advantage across most of the South is so large that anti-Mormon and class bias won’t prevent him from winning easy victories over President Obama in most states. But in North Carolina and, particularly, Virginia, the hesitance of some Caucasian voters to choose a rich man who is also a Mormon could hurt Romney.

Reuters data gathered over several months showed that 38% of middle- to lower-income whites across the Bible Belt said they would be less likely to vote for a “very wealthy” politician running against one who isn’t. The same survey showed 20% less likely to vote for an African American.

Exemplifying the odd constellation of prejudice for some in the region, Reuters reporter Margot Roosevelt told the story of a 52-year-old white woman from Lynchburg who — after voting twice for George W. Bush — is ready to support President Obama this fall.

Sheryl Harris believes Obama is a Muslim, but also thinks Democrats are more in touch with those who have less. She said she will vote for Obama, adding: "At least he wasn't brought up filthy rich."

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While other polls have shown that nationally bias against Romney’s Mormon faith is not substantial, Reuters found it could not be dismissed as a factor in the 11 states stretching from Virginia to the Deep South and Texas. The poll found that 35% of voters overall, and the same proportion of lower- and middle-income whites in the region, said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon.

Reporter Roosevelt interviewed voters convinced that mainstream Mormons continue the practice of multiple marriages that the church outlawed decades ago.

"Mormons don't believe like we believe," said Dianna McCullough, a retired factory worker, working in a soup kitchen. "Like the wives -- Romney's probably got more than one."

The survey showed that white Bible Belt voters are slightly less likely than other voters to cast a ballot this fall. Though the gap was only four percentage points—21% potentially not voting compared with 17% of the voting population as a whole, with a margin of error of 3.2%—that lack of enthusiasm could hurt Romney in a tight contest.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

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