A unique survey of Mormons in America has found that church members are highly religious and happy in their lives but also heavily concerned about others’ perceptions of their faith. Here are some of the main findings of the poll, conducted the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (also check out Thursday’s Washington Post story by Michelle Boorstein and an infographic of the results):

-Fully 56 percent of Mormons name misperceptions or discrimination as the most important challenge facing Mormons, and 68 percent think Americans see Mormonism as “out of the mainstream.”At the same time, more than six in 10 believe acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise among the general public, and over half think the nation is ready to elect a Mormon president.

-Spurned by evangelicals – The survey finds Mormons are the most conservative and Republican religious group in the nation. But despite sharing many political and socially conservative views with white evangelical Protestants, half of Mormons say evangelical Christians are “unfriendly” toward Mormons. The barrier seems to be largely theological. Nearly half of white evangelicals in a separate Pew survey last year said Mormonism is not a Christian religion; almost all Mormons in the new survey see themselves as Christians.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a practicing Mormon, struggled to win evangelical support in the Iowa caucuses both this year and in 2008. South Carolina represents his next big test: Sixty percent of 2008 GOP primary voters in the Palmetto state were evangelicals.

- Nearly nine in 10 Mormons report being satisfied with their lives, and a similar number rate their community as an “excellent” or “good” place to live; both numbers are higher than ratings among the general public. Community satisfaction peaks among those living in Utah, who represent about one-third of the Mormon population.

- Mormons exhibit higher levels of commitment than members of every other major religious tradition, including white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants, who also rise above the national average in that area. More than eight in 10 Mormons say religion is very important in their lives and pray every day, and more than three-quarters attend worship services at least once a week. Countering the old stereotype, nearly nine in 10 Mormons believe polygamy is morally wrong.

Other top polls:

More see rich/poor conflict – The number of Americans perceiving strong conflicts between the nation’s rich and poor has spiked from 47 to 66 percent since 2009, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday. Rich-poor conflicts are now seen as slightly more prevalent than those between immigrants and the native born (62 percent see strong conflict), blacks and whites (38 percent), and young and old (34 percent). The poll jibes with a November Washington Post-ABC News poll that found that six in 10 Americans see a widening gap between the wealthy and less well off, with about as many supporting federal government action to shrink the divide.

White Americans have driven much of the shift in the Pew survey. In 2009, 43 percent of whites saw conflict between rich and poor, but 65 percent say so in the latest survey. Whites are now closer to African Americans (74 percent perceive conflict) and similar to Hispanics (61 percent). Across income groups, more Americans see conflict between the rich and poor. The heightened sense of conflict persists across party lines, with more Republicans, Democrats and independents saying there are strong conflicts than they said three years ago.

Romney’s strength varies in South Carolina – The latest horse race polls for South Carolina’s presidential primary offer vastly different pictures of the Republican race, particularly Romney’s strength. A CNN poll released before the New Hampshire primary found Romney winning 37 percent among likely primary voters (with an 18-point advantage over his nearest opponent), but a trio of recent automated polls show Romney garnering 23 to 30 percent support, holding a lead between two and seven percentage points.

What’s going on? Romney may have cooled off after the big boost from his victory in the Iowa caucuses, but poll methodology also may be playing a role. Automated polls have generally shown lower support this cycle for Romney than those conducted with live interviewers. In terms of timing, the CNN (Jan. 4-5) and Rasmussen polls (Jan. 5) were conducted over nearly identical field periods, but found a 10-point difference in Romney’s support.

It’s also worth noting that all of the polls were conducted on landlines only, thus missing cell phone-only voters. This fast-growing group made up about a quarter of adults in South Carolina in the latest data from 2010.

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