The Washington Post

Wealth replaces Mormonism as Romney’s defining trait

TAMPA -- Mitt Romney used to be the Mormon guy. Now, he's the rich guy.

A new poll from the Washington Post and Pew Research Center shows that Mormonism -- which was closely associated with Romney's early presidential candidacy -- has slipped from voters' minds. It's replacement as the No. 1 defining characteristic of the GOP nominee?

What else? His wealth.

In October 2011, the Washington Post and Pew Research Center conducted a poll in which respondents were asked to describe Romney in one word. More than one in 10 who had a response used either the word "Mormon" or "religion," making it far and away the defining perception of him.

Today, though, a similar poll shows far fewer people define Romney by his religion. Just eight out of more than 800 responses used the word "Mormon" to describe Romney in a WaPo-Pew poll conducted in recent days. And "religion" didn't register.

But just as Mormonism has slipped from people's minds, Romney's wealth has filled the void.

It seems that Democrats' attempts to label him as a rich guy have worked, with his wealth now registering as the most talked-about issue. In the new poll, the words "rich," "wealthy," "greedy," "money" and "millionaire" are mentioned by one in 10 people. Ten months ago, "rich" was way down on the list and the other words weren't mentioned with any frequency.

Wealth, of course, isn't necessarily a bad thing in voters' minds; it could be viewed as a sign of intelligence and success. And the top nine words used to describe Romney are all either positive or neutral -- including the No. 1 term: "Honest."

Among the other shifts in his image:

- The top word used to describe Romney may be a positive one. But it also appears Democrats have had some success in attacking his character. "Liar," "arrogant," "fake," "crooked" and "untrustworthy" are all among the most-cited words, and all generally speak to the same character flaw. So while "honest" is tops, there are plenty of negative views of his character; they're just more diffuse.

- While "flip-flopper" was the third most-cited word in October, it's now basically a blip on the radar.

- The most-cited neutral word associated with Romney is "businessman," which was not high on the list 10 months ago. But that's really no surprise; both Republicans and Democrats have been defining him as such for months -- Republicans using it to say he's ready to take control of the economy and Democrats focusing on his record at Bain Capital.

- Basically nobody thinks of him as a "moderate" anymore. While it was the fifth most-cited word in a March poll conducted during a heated Republican presidential primary (when Romney was being attacked from the right), it didn't even register in the latest survey.

The fifth most-cited word to describe Romney these days? "Conservative."

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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