Thursday, October 12, 2006

Is the U.S. Ready for a Mormon President?

Yesterday I was listening to the Michael Medved show and in talking about Mitt Romney's possible bid for the presidency, he referred to a poll conducted by the LA Times and Bloomberg back in July where responders were asked whether or not they would support a candidate based on his religious affiliation.

More than a third of registered voters -- 35 percent -- say they wouldn't vote for a Mormon for president, the latest Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll finds. That's considerably more than say they wouldn't vote for a Catholic, Jew or evangelical Christian. Only a Muslim gets a higher negative response.

Among all respondents, 37 percent say they wouldn't vote for a Mormon. More than two in five Democrats say they wouldn't do so, while about a third of both Republicans and independents say they wouldn't. Females are slightly more negative toward a Mormon candidate than males.

By comparison, 22 percent of registered voters say they wouldn't support an evangelical Christian, 14 percent wouldn't back a Jewish candidate, and 9 percent say no to a Catholic. Fifty-three percent say they wouldn't vote for a Muslim.

When I first heard about this poll, I was slightly alarmed because it seemed like there was a lot of anti-Mormon bigotry involved. That may well be the case, but I think a lot of it is also due to ignorance and misinformation. I don't know how many times I've had to explain to people what Mormons are actually about. There's a lot of confusion out there, and some of it is caused by inaccurate or sloppy journalism. I've written several letters to to editors of various magazines and newspapers where journalists have failed to distinguish between members of the LDS church (Mormons) and unrelated churches with similar names that practice polygamy. Most people whose misconceptions I've corrected are embarrassed, and also relieved to hear that those things they've heard about Mormons are not true. Many times they also go out of their way to correct their friends as well because they now have a friend who is a Mormon. I think that most people are fairminded and that the question of Mitt's religious affliation will not be a problem when he addresses their concerns about it.

One should also keep in mind that the poll was hypothetical and did not ask about a particular candidate. I agree with the sentiment of Susan Pinkus, the Los Angeles Times' polling director--``It all hinges on who the candidate is and how the public perceives him.'' Once the public gets to know Mitt Romney, I don't think that his religion will be a factor, much as it wasn't for President JFK.



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