Behind the numbers: Can a Mormon win?

By Jon Cohen
Monday, January 31, 2011; 9:37 PM

Amid swirling attention on U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman's (R) potential candidacy, there is sure to be renewed focus on whether Americans (but first Republican primary voters) are ready for a Mormon president.

Below is a partial summary of Washington Post-ABC News polling data about a Mormon running for the presidency - collected the last-go-round, when speculation centered on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Related exit poll questions from Iowa and New Hampshire are also included.

National: in Dec. 2007, 22 percent of Americans said they would be less apt to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. That was higher than the percentages saying they would be less likely to support someone who has been a religious leader (19 percent), a woman (15) or an African American (5).

But also notable is that the percentage turning away from a Mormon candidate dropped significantly - by 13 percentage points - between Dec. 2006 and Dec. 2007. Over this same time period, the percentage of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents saying being a Mormon was of no consequence rose 11 points to 72 percent, as the percentage less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate dropped from 36 to 21 percent. Numbers also dropped among white evangelical Protestants, 26 percent of whom said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate in Dec. 2007 (down 10 points from the year before).

Iowa: a Dec. 2007 Post-ABC poll of likely GOP caucusgoers found 20 percent saying they would be less likely to support Romney because of his religion. According to the Iowa exit poll (really an "entrance poll"), more than a third of GOP caucusgoers said that it was very important to them to be in sync with a candidate's religious beliefs, and these voters went overwhelming for Mike Huckabee (56 percent for the former Arkansas governor, while Romney scored just 11 percent).

New Hampshire: fully 88 percent of Republicans in a Dec. 2007 Post-ABC poll said Romney's Mormonism would not matter in their vote. Unlike in Iowa, in the New Hampshire exit poll, a slender 14 percent of GOP voters said it was very important to line up with a candidate's religious views, and Romney was competitive among these voters.

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