Opinion Brief

Will Romney's religion matter in 2012?

A new poll shows voter discomfort with the idea of a Mormon president. And yet, Mormon candidate Mitt Romney is pulling ahead of his GOP rivals

Republican heavyweight Mitt Romney's religion is back in the news, after a new Quinnipiac poll found that only 35 percent of Americans are "entirely comfortable" with the idea of a Mormon in the White House. Another 25 percent said they are "somewhat comfortable" with the idea, while 36 percent acknowledged they are "entirely" or "somewhat" uncomfortable with a Mormon president. Only 45 percent of respondents viewed Mormonism favorably. And yet, the same poll showed Romney leading his closest rival for the GOP presidential nomination by 10 points. Will his religion really be a stumbling block?

Romney's Mormonism is irrelevant: Voters are smart enough to understand that Romney "is running to be the nation's chief executive, not its principal theologian," says Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter. And he's handling the religion issue with aplomb, deftly channeling JFK, the nation's first Catholic president, in separating his religious and political obligations. If Romney can bring the same "spark and the backbone" to other issues, he might just be our next president."Three cheers for Romney"

Well, it matters to a key GOP bloc: Ominously for Romney, "a full third of white evangelicals express an aversion to Mormon candidates," says Amy Sullivan at TIME, and white evangelicals are "the largest single bloc that selects the Republican presidential nominee—in 2008, they made up 44% of all GOP primary voters." Worse, those numbers are about the same as four years ago, when "vicious" anti-Mormon whisper campaigns, and public opposition from some evangelical leaders, helped sink Romney. Expect the same in 2012."Does Mitt Romney have a prayer with evangelicals?"

Other issues will trump religion: GOP voters are put off by Romney's "Massachusetts health care reform and his past policy flip-flops, not his religion," says Linda Feldman at The Christian Science Monitor. Mormonism actually polls better with Republicans than with Democrats or independents. And let's be realistic: If jobs numbers and the economy are still in the dumps next year, "where and how the Republican nominee chooses to worship probably won't matter.""Why Mormonism might not be a problem for Mitt Romney"

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