Pop quiz: Mitt Romney is the current front-runner in the Republican race for the White House; he ran for president in 2008 and was governor of Massachusetts from 2004 to 2007. Can you name his religion?
More than half of Americans were unable to answer the question correctly, according to a new Public Religion Research Institute/Religion News Service poll. One in 10 thought Romney is Protestant or Catholic, while nearly 50 percent said they didn't know at all. Romney is Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The survey, which examined the many roles religion can play in the next presidential election, showed strong evidence that most Americans want a president who professes some religious belief, even if it differs from their own. But it also suggested that there may be confusion when it comes to identifying the faith of some of the candidates.
President Obama, it seems, suffers from a similar faith-messaging problem. Nearly 20 percent still think Obama is a Muslim, according to to the poll, and just 38 percent correctly answered that he is a Christian.
The inability of voters to accurately connect religions with candidates may have a significant effect on the 2012 race. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that nearly one in four Americans--who were given a list of religions and other traits and asked how a candidate choosing each might impact their vote--said they would be "less likely" to vote for a Mormon. Romney's faith came out favorable, however, compared with no faith at all (61 percent said they'd be "less likely" to vote for an atheist), but only a point more popular than a candidate who has smoked marijuana (24 percent "less likely").
"It's really too early to gauge the full impact Romney's religious identity will have on the election, but there are suggestive patterns," said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. "Because views about the Mormon faith are tied to political support, Romney will need to continue to address these perceptions as Americans learn more about him during the campaign."
Other interesting points found in the survey:
- Fox News viewers were more likely than CNN viewers to correctly identify Romney's faith.
- "Majorities of every religious group say it is important that a presidential candidate have strong religious beliefs, including white evangelicals (73 percent), minority Christians (74 percent), white mainline Protestants (57 percent), and Catholics (57 percent)."
- "More than 71 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of those identifying with the Tea Party say it is somewhat or very important that a presidential candidate have strong religious beliefs, compared with 51 percent of Democrats."
- "Among those who identify with the Tea Party, [Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele] Bachmann garners greater support than Romney in a matchup against Obama (78 percent and 71 percent, respectively)."
- "Among white evangelical Protestants, Bachmann leads Obama 60 percent to 17 percent, while Romney leads Obama 55 percent to 18 percent."