A national survey reveals that less than half of Americans know Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Among those who say the Mormon faith is different from their own, Romney's support lags 21 points behind President Barack Obama.
Only four in 10 Americans can correctly identify Romney as a Mormon, reveals a Public Religion Research Institute/Religion News Service survey. Forty-six percent say they do not know his religious beliefs. Another 10 percent believe Romney is either a Protestant or a Catholic.
Romney has been the frontrunner so far among GOP candidates running for the presidency.
Gallup shows the percentage of Republicans who would support Romney at the ballot currently tops that of the other GOP contenders, both official and undeclared. Additionally, the former Massachusetts governor raised $18 million in campaign funds.
His campaign attributes his success to the number of voters who identify with his message in spite of his faith.
Campaign Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick said of campaign contributions, "Voters are responding to Mitt Romney's message."
Mark DeMoss, a Southern Baptist media guru and campaign volunteer, asserts that Americans – including evangelicals – are overcoming their objections to a Mormon candidate this election cycle.
But PRRI CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones contends the survey shows that Romney's Mormon faith may still be a barrier to political support.
The survey reveals more than seven in 10 respondents (72 percent) reported Mormons hold religious beliefs that are somewhat to very different from their own.
Romney trails Obama by 21 points (49 percent vs. 28 percent) among those who say Mormons hold religious beliefs that are different from their own.
In this election cycle, Romney has dodged questions about the Mormon faith, choosing instead to focus more on economic issues.
However, Jones recommended, "Because views about the Mormon faith are tied to political support, Romney will need to continue to address these perceptions as Americans learn more about him during the campaign."
Romney lost the GOP nomination in 2008.
He closely trailed the eventual nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona. In his 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference address, Romney noted he had 4 million supporters to McCain's 4.7 million.
However, he struggled to reconcile his faith with conservative supporters. A 2007 Pew poll showed that 41 percent of white evangelicals who went to church weekly said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon.
Evangelical respondents to the July 25 survey overwhelmingly (by 73 percent) said it is important that a presidential candidate have strong religious beliefs.
Just last month, members of the National Association of Evangelicals named Tim Pawlenty, a Christian, as their preferred Republican presidential candidate. Romney ranked a distant second place.
A July Gallup poll also shows that Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to oppose a Mormon for president.