New voter survey results indicate that Mitt Romney does indeed face bias against his religion, Mormonism, from Republicans, and in particular from Southern evangelical Christians. But, the survey also reveals something else about evangelicals that could help Romney overcome this bias, should he win the nomination.
It seems evangelicals, an important part of the Republican voter base, dislike President Barack Obama more than they dislike Mormonism.
"This is good news for Romney and bad news for those who have been arguing Romney cannot rally the GOP base," said John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University and one of the researchers to analyze the results of the survey.
"He can in fact rally the troops for the fall election. And he can thank President Obama for that," Geer said in a press release issued by Vanderbilt University.
The survey, conducted in early January by the national polling firm YouGov, found that 20 percent of Republicans nationally would not vote for a "qualified Mormon" for President. For Southern evangelical Republicans that number goes up to 31 percent. [The World's Top Religions (Infographic)]
This is a considerable bias; given similar questions about a woman or African American candidate, that proportion drops to less than 1 percent, according to Geer. There is genuine bias out there against Mormons, he said.
But this bias looks unlikely to hurt Romney's chances with these voters in a general election. The survey found that 12 percent of Southern evangelicals would stay at home rather than vote for Romney in the general election. This is a good sign for Romney, since his competitor for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich, pulled a similar number. When given the options of staying home, voting for Romney and voting for Obama, only 3 percent of evangelicals picked the latter.
Using a "feeling thermometer" scale of 0 to 100 the survey also found that Southern evangelicals over 60 were quite frosty toward Obama, giving him 6 degrees —a "ridiculously low" score, according to Geer. Evangelicals of all ages gave him an 11. By comparison, atheists in general got 19 degrees.
The survey used both a nationally representative sample of 1,800 Americans and an additional sample of 600 Southern evangelical Christians.