White evangelical Christians who believe Mormons hold different beliefs strongly favor Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama, according to a new poll.
Sixty-seven percent of white evangelicals who answered that Romney's Mormon faith, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is different than their own faith said they would vote for Romney if the election were held today. The May 2-6 poll was conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, a liberal polling organization focused on religion issues. Twenty-two percent of that group said they would vote for Obama, which gives Romney a 45 percentage point advantage.
The sample of 1,006 American adults has a margin of error for the full sample of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Romney's advantage among all white evangelicals is about the same -- 68 percent to Obama's 19 percent. Previous polls conducted by PRRI over the past year shows among white evangelicals an increase in favorability and an increase in the percentage who correctly identify him as a Mormon (see graph).
The results are consistent with a March Barna Group poll which found, using a more narrow definition of evangelical, 22 percent support for Obama.
Romney's religion became an issue during the Republican primary after Robert Jeffress, the evangelical pastor of a Texas megachurch, said that Christians should not favor a non-Christian, such as Romney, over a competent Christian. He also said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a cult and not Christian. At the same time, though, Jeffress said he would support Romney if he were the Republican nominee facing Obama in the general election. In April, after it became clear that Romney would be the nominee, Jeffress said he was supporting Romney.
A majority of respondents, 58 percent, in the PRRI poll said that it is not too important or not at all important for a candidate to share their religious beliefs. There is a strong correlation, though, between preference for a candidate and the belief that the candidate's religious beliefs are similar to their own.
Among voters who believe that Obama's religious beliefs are different than their own, Romney leads by 31 percentage points, 57 percent to 26 percent. Among voters who believe that Romney's religious beliefs are different from their own, Obama leads by 25 percentage points, 56 percent to 31 percent.
Most respondents could not correctly identify either Romney's or Obama's religion. Forty-one percent said they do not know what Obama's religion is and 40 percent said they do not know what Romney's religion is. Only 33 percent correctly identified Obama as a Protestant Christian, or Christian, and only 45 percent correctly identified Romney as a Mormon. Sixteen percent answered that Obama is Muslim.
For the full sample, Obama has a 12 percentage point lead, 47 percent to 35 percent. According to RealClearPolitics.com, seven recent polls range from an eight percentage point lead for Obama to a five percentage point lead for Romney. The average of those polls, which does not include PRRI's poll, shows Obama at 46.7 percent and Romney at 45.4 percent.