Anti-Mormon Bias Hasn't Budged in 45 Years

Mitt Romney campaigning with his family.
Mitt Romney campaigning with his family. (Image credit: Frontpage | Shutterstock)

With Mormon Mitt Romney running for president, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been in the spotlight. Now, a new survey finds that the same proportion of Americans would refuse to vote for a Mormon president today as in 1967.

The new Gallup poll finds that 18 percent of Americans today wouldn't vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate in their political party who is Mormon. In 1967, 17 percent of Americans said the same thing.

"Negativity toward a Mormon candidate increases from 10 percent among Republicans to 18 percent among Independents to 24 percent among Democrats," Gallup reported Thursday (June 21).

Mormons consider themselves Christians, though some other Christian denominations argue that they are not. Like other Christians, Mormons believe in Jesus Christ, but they also believe in living prophets. Along with the Bible, Mormons consider the Book of Mormon to be a holy text. [How Mormons Are Perceived (Infographic)]

Gallup originally asked about Mormonism and politics in 1967, when Mitt Romney's father George Romney vied for the 1968 Republican nomination for president (he would lose out to Richard Nixon).

Surveys since 1967 have shown that an average of 19 percent of respondents would reject a Mormon presidential candidate due to the candidate's religion. The number reached a high of 24 percent in 2007. This year's 18 percent is down four percentage points from 22 percent last year.

People with lower levels of education are less likely to say they would vote for a Mormon, Gallup found. Protestants, Catholics and non-religious people are all equally likely to say they'd reject a Mormon for president.

However, only 57 percent of Americans know that Romney is a Mormon, Gallup found. Even if knowledge of his religion becomes more widespread, it's not clear whether religious bias would have an effect on his campaign. According to a 1960 Gallup poll, 21 percent of Americans said they wouldn't vote for a Catholic for president. Nevertheless, John F. Kennedy won the presidency shortly thereafter.

People who do know Romney's faith were less likely to say they wouldn't vote for a Mormon. Only 9 percent of those who realized that the candidate is Mormon said they'd never vote for someone of his religion. But of the 40 percent or so of people who don't know Romney's faith, 29 percent said they would not vote for a Mormon.

That could mean that as the campaign heats up and voters learn more about Romney, his Mormonism could become a handicap, Gallup researchers noted.

"The stability of resistance to a Mormon presidential candidate over the past 45 years is an anomaly, given that resistance to a candidate who is black, a woman, or Jewish has declined substantially over the same period of time," they wrote.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the first reference to the LDS Church. The full name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.