The GOP’s all-important social conservatives may be getting more comfortable with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith -- but liberals are increasingly wary about the candidate’s religion in the run-up to November, according to a new study.
The study found anti-Mormon attitudes have increased since Romney's 2008 presidential bid and are highest among liberal and non-religious voters. Their discomfort could pose a problem for the Republican candidate in November.
“The victory of Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary has convinced many observers that Romney’s Mormon religion is now irrelevant to his electoral chances,” wrote study author David Smith. But “aversion to Mormons is still an important force in American public opinion, and one that seriously affects Romney's chances even if he ultimately overcomes it."
The study found attitudes about Mormonism among Evangelicals has largely remained unchanged since 2007 -- when 37 percent said they were “less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president,” compared with 33 percent this year.
However, that sentiment among non-religious voters increased from 21 percent to 41 percent over roughly the same period.
Among liberal voters, 43 percent said they were less likely to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate in 2012, compared with 28 percent in 2007.
Political strategist Elliott Curson said Thursday that Romney’s religion becomes less of concern “as each day goes by.”
“Still, some people will not vote for Romney because he’s not of their religion, and some people will not vote for Obama because he’s not like them,” said Curson, a media consultant for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
He said whether independents -- which could include those non-religious and liberal voters -- will swing toward Romney despite religious concerns is too difficult to predict because people typically don’t give accurate information to such questions in polls.
The study by Smith, a University of Sydney scholar, found the apparent anti-Mormon sentiment among liberal votes might be the result of the member’s activism against “same-sex” marriage.
The findings come as acceptance of Mormonism in America appears to have reached a record high. Members of the religion can be found on both sides of the aisle, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), one of the more prominent Democrat Mormons.
“From Washington, D.C., to Hollywood to corporate board rooms across the country, Mormonism has made an unprecedented leap forward in American culture,” writes author Stephen Mansfield in advance of his upcoming book “The Mormonizing of America.”
To be sure, Romney appeared to have won over the Evangelical vote in a major graduation speech this spring at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, referring to himself as a Christian, not a Mormon.
And last week, Newsweek magazine’s cover story “Mormon Moment” chronicled the rise of the so-called “outsider” religion, which is the subject of a smash Broadway play and whose membership includes “Twilight’ series author Stephenie Meyer and roughly a dozen members of Congress.
Smith’s study also cited an American National Election Studies report in February that found nearly 35 percent of respondents said they were "less likely" to vote for a Mormon, compared with a 2007 Pew study that found 26 percent of voters expressing concern about voting for members of the Latter-day Saints church.