Romney's Mormon faith may be a factor in primaries but not general election, survey shows

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to employees at BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H., Monday, Nov. 21, 2011.
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Mitt Romney
AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon faith may deter some white evangelicals -- an important Republican primary voting bloc -- from backing the former governor in the GOP primaries, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. Should Romney win the party's nomination, however, the survey suggests his faith would no longer be an issue for GOP voters.

As many as 56 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters know Romney is a Mormon, according to the survey, conducted Nov. 9 - 14. Only 8 percent of GOP voters say they are less likely to vote for Romney because of his religion, but that figure jumps to 15 percent among white evangelical Republican voters. Additionally, most Republicans say Mormonism is a Christian faith, but 53 percent of white evangelical Republicans consider it a non-Christian faith.

That skepticism of Romney's faith is reflected in the relatively lower support Romney has from white evangelical Republicans. The survey shows Romney, at 23 percent support, in a statistical tie for first place among all Republican voters with businessman Herman Cain, who garners 22 percent. But among white evangelical Republican voters, Cain leaders Romney 26 percent to 17 percent. (Note: this poll was conducted before Newt Gingrich's recent rise in other polls.)

Sill, if Romney were to win the Republican nomination, white evangelicals would support him over President Obama with 91 percent of the vote -- even more so than Republicans overall (who would support Romney over Mr. Obama with 87 percent).

The support of evangelical voters could be especially important in Iowa, which will hold the nation's first presidential nominating contest on January 3. In 2008, 60 percent of the Iowa Republican electorate was "born-again Christian."

There are signs that Romney may not win the support of Christian conservatives there -- for instance, he skipped a major forum hosted by the Iowa Christian conservative group Family Leader over the weekend. Steve Deace, a radio talk show host in the state, told the Hill that social conservatives there have already decided they're against him. "I would say 'resistance' is too mild a word. 'Anathema' might be more like it," Deace said.

Still, a poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers released last week showed that the Iowa nomination is up for grabs -- and that Romney is still a frontrunner there.

Romney has held his cards closely when it comes to his strategy in Iowa, but he told reporters over the weekend, "We intend to play in Iowa. I want to do very well there."

He'll return to the state today to visit a campaign office he quietly opened in Des Moines.