Despite the increased attention to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon religion, a new survey released Thursday shows that a majority of Americans cannot identify the former Massachusetts governor's religion.
The survey by Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute found that only four-in-10 Americans know that Romney is Mormon. The figure has not changed since July, when the research and polling organization last conducted a survey on Americans' knowledge of the candidate's religion.
That lack of change contrasts with the increasingly heated conversation over whether a largely Protestant nation is uneasy with a Mormon president. The issue, which has long haunted Romney's presidential aspirations, was reignited last month after a popular Texas minister and prominent supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Mormonism a "cult."
While the new survey did not find an overall change in knowledge about Romney's religion, it did find that more white evangelical Protestants can identify Romney as Mormon -- 53 percent of white evangelical Protestants said Romney is Mormon, up 9 percentage points since July.
"The increase in knowledge of Romney's Mormon faith among evangelicals is potentially problematic for Romney, since we know from our research that six-in-10 evangelicals do not see the Mormon faith to be a Christian religion," said Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute. "As more evangelical voters identify Romney as a Mormon, the question will be whether he can bridge the religious gap with shared political values."
The survey also asked respondents how they identified with Republican presidential frontrunners' political views and religious beliefs. In the case of Romney, Republican and white evangelical Protestant voters were more than twice as likely to agree with his political views than with his religious beliefs. Regarding Perry, who is an evangelical, white evangelical Protestants were almost twice as likely to agree with his religious beliefs than with his political views. When it came to Herman Cain, who is a member of a National Baptist Convention church, the survey found that an almost equal number of white evangelical Protestants agree with both his political views and religious beliefs.
"The sources of Cain's strength are Romney and Perry's weaknesses," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. "Especially for the GOP primary, where white evangelical Protestants play a prominent role, candidates need to connect with voters on both shared political and religious values.
"Romney is strong on political affinity, but weaker on religious affinity. Perry is weaker on political affinity but stronger on religious affinity. Cain is strong on both political and religious affinity among evangelical voters."
The survey is based on 1,019 adults who are 18 or older and live in the continental United States, and was conducted between Oct. 19 and Oct. 23 with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. The survey's questionnaire and methodology can be found here.
More details about the survey's findings are below.
- College graduates and senior citizens (ages 65 and older) were most likely to say Romney is Mormon (66 percent and and 62 percent, respectively).
- Republicans (52 percent) and self-identified Tea Party members (52 percent) were more likely to say Romney is Mormon than independent voters (41 percent) or Democrats (36 percent).
- Registered voters were more likely than the overall population to say Romney is Mormon. Forty-nine percent of registered voters said he was Mormon, compared to 42 percent of the larger population.
- Twenty-six percent of Republican voters say Romney is the candidate whose political views are closest to theirs. Only 10 percent of Republicans say his religious beliefs are closest to theirs.
- Twenty-one percent of white evangelical Protestant voters say that Romney's political views are closest to theirs, while 8 percent say that his religious beliefs are closest to theirs.
- Fifteen percent of Republican voters say Perry's political views are closest to theirs, while 17 percent say his religious beliefs are closest to theirs.
- White evangelical Protestants are twice as likely to say Perry's religious beliefs are closest to theirs (22 percent) compared to those who say his political views are closest to theirs (12 percent).
- A quarter of of Republican voters say Cain's political views are closest to theirs, while 19 percent say his religious beliefs are closest to theirs.
- Twenty-six percent of white Evangelical voters say that Cain's political views are closest to theirs, while 20 percent say his religious beliefs are closest to theirs.
Beyond frontrunners such as Romney, Perry and Cain, religion has played a prominent role among most Republicans vying for their party's presidential nomination. The slideshow below shows a sampling of comments on religion from Republicans in the presidential field.