Romney’s Mormon problem may not be restricted to the South, neither is his liberal problem

My friend Ken Carroll has wept and gnashed his teeth about Yankees’ perception of southern evangelicals with respect to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. My first suggestion to Ken is that he re-calibrate his sensitivity meter and reset it to “we don’t care how you do it up north.” I would also suggest that voters’ questions about electing a Mormon as President are neither uniquely Southern nor uniquely evangelical in nature. The common thread in those who support another candidate is just as likely to be political conservatism, specifically small government or fiscal conservatism.

Whether Mormons are Christian depends on who you ask

Mormons state that they are Christians, but some mainline and evangelical believers do not agree.

A 2007 Pew survey found that 31% of respondents do not believe Mormons are Christians and 25% would be less likely to vote for a Mormon. 62% said that Mormonism is significantly different then their religion.

This year, Lifeway Research found that 67% of evangelical preachers and 48 percent of mainline preachers strongly disagree with the statement that Mormons are Christians.

In 2000, my church, the United Methodist Church, said that Mormonism “does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith.” The Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted a similar statement in 1995 and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has stated that “the Mormon understanding of the Word of God is not the same as the Christian understanding” and does not recognize Mormon baptism as Christian baptism.

A November 2011 survey by Pew found that 53% of white evangelicals believe that Mormons are not Christians as they understand the term, while only 21% of mainline Protestants agree with that statement.

So the opinion that Mormonism is not Christianity is more widely held among evangelicals, it is not a uniquely evangelical point of view. It is subject to debate, but it appears that this opinion is neither a fringe belief nor is it confined to evangelicals.

These concerns are not uniquely Southern

A recent post at Huffington Post delves into some numbers from the CNN entrance and exit polls in Iowa and notes that Romney received support from only 14% of self-identified evangelical Christians, while giving fellow evangelicals Bachmann and Perry only 20% while Catholics Gingrich and Santorum received 46% of Evangelical support. Notably, 57% of respondents to the CNN surveys identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christian.

While HuffPo concludes that this means that questions about Romney’s faith underlie his soft support among the hardcore.

Those low numbers among the Republican Party’s most important constituency could portend trouble for the candidate who almost everyone agrees would be the automatic shoo-in for the GOP’s nomination if not for his membership in the Mormon Church. If unable to shake evangelical apathy (or perhaps even antipathy) towards his Mormon faith, Romney will come up short again in his quest for the Republican ticket.

In another post, the same HuffPo writer states

Romney couldn’t capture the nomination four years ago, though his faith certainly was not the only factor in his defeat. But it’s already clear the questions about Mormonism won’t be any less prominent for Romney this time either.

While it is true that questions about Romney’s faith may make some evangelical and even mainline Christians hesitant to support him, I have an alternative theory.

Both issues may be irrelevant to conservatives

I will confess to harboring personal questions about supporting a Mormon for President in the Republican Primary. I recognize that at least part of my hesitation is rooted in my ignorance of the Mormon faith, but that is also reflects legitimate questions of the compatability of his faith with mine. But those questions might be overcome with more information and less ignorance.

What Romney cannot overcome in my mind, and I believe the minds of other conservatives, is my suspicion of his born-again conservatism, especially as regards fiscal issues and the proper role of government. Because of this, any issues or questions I might have about his faith are irrelevant in my vote choice.

My experience suggests that substantial overlap exists between small-government and fiscal conservatives and conservative Christians. That also reflects my own ideology. I suspect this is as accurate for Iowa Republicans as it is for Georgia GOPers. Pew surveys from November 2010 and February 2011 found that white evangelicals were substantially more likely to support Tea Party organizations than mainline Protestants and that there is substantial overlap between social conservatism and fiscal conservatism among Tea Party supporters. Among those who agree with the conservative Christian movement, 69% agreed with the Tea Party.

recent Pew poll found significant differences between self-identified evangelicals and mainline Protestants in their willingness to support Romney in the Republican Primary. The same survey found that voters who don’t believe Mormons are Christians are also the strongest opponents of President Obama and that there is no significant difference in their support for Romney over Obama versus those who agree that Mormons are Christian.

poll released last week by the Salt Lake Tribune highlights evangelical views that they share common ground with Mormons on social issues like abortion and gay rights and found that “76 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of white evangelicals said they would be comfortable voting for a Mormon for president, while fewer than half of Democrats (46 percent) said they would be.”

But fiscal conservatism is important to me and the disconnect between my political ideology and Mitt Romney’s record keeps me searching for an alternative candidate.

So why do the media insist that Romney’s Mormon faith is a larger issue for conservatives than it is? Because it’s an easier and more interesting post. It will generate more traffic, links and discussion than acknowledging that Romney’s lack of real conservative credentials is an impediment to his earning the Republican nomination. It also requires a less-facile understanding of conservative politics than many writers in the national media possess or are willing to acquire.

And perhaps there are those who seek to paint Republicans as intolerant while ignoring evidence that Democrats may be less tolerant of Mormonism in a political candidate than Republicans are.

Summary

Questions about Romney’s Mormon faith do appear to be correlated to support for Romney among self-identified evangelicals. But one of the principal lessons in an introductory statistics course to to avoid confusing correlation with causation. There is also significant correlation between self-identified evangelicalism and both fiscal and social conservatism. And small government and fiscal conservatives of all religious backgrounds are rightly suspicious of Mitt Romney’s self-professed conservatism given his record in office.

49 comments

  1. Engineer says:

    Jon Huntsman is also Mormon, but nobody seems to make a big deal of it like they do with Romney. I suspect that this is due to how Romney talks a lot about his faith, while Huntsman tends to stay low-key regarding his faith.

  2. Blake says:

    I find this question inherently interesting and have pondered it to some extent during this campaign season. However, as a practical matter (in terms of reducing Romney’s chances at the nomination) it appears to be completely overshadowed by the Tea Party/conservative Republican/evangelical/however-you-want-to-label-the-nonestablishment-base’s inability to coalesce behind a single alternative (or, depending on your perspective, two of the three alternatives’ inability to see past their egos and drop out of the race). Mormonism was obviously insignificant relative to Santorum/Gingrich/Perry vote fracturing in Iowa, it apparently is going to be a non-factor in New Hampshire, and I would lay odds that unless Perry or Gingrich drops out before South Carolina, Mormonism will pale beside the splitting of the vote there too–particularly since there is a third fracture in the vote behind Paul, who clearly is going to continue to campaign all the way to the convention.

  3. Christopher says:

    I’m LDS (aka Mormon) and I personally don’t want to see someone of my faith run for POTUS. The reason is simple. It pains me to see the distortions, mischaracterizations and outright bigotry move from a sporadic occurrence to a national topic.

    Having said that, I have no problem with a Mormon president, per se. I just don’t want it to be Romney. I don’t trust him to not do whatever is politically expedient at the time.

    Also, I readily admit that some of the criticisms levelled at my church are accurate. No, we aren’t part of “historic Christianity” and we don’t pretend to be. We believe that Christianity became totally corrupt and apostate. While the reformation was a good step, we believe that it wasn’t enough to restore Christ’s authority and a complete restoration was necessary. This gets into the whole Joseph Smith is a prophet doctrine.

    We don’t view scripture the same way that other Christian churches do, I’ll admit that as well. We believe the Bible is indeed scripture, but we also believe that just because the Christian fathers of 1800 years ago decided what was scripture doesn’t mean that the Lord was bound by their decision that the Heavens are closed and believe in continuing revelation, i.e. The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, etc.

    So the accuracy of “Are Mormons Christians” isn’t as simple as most would state. We are Christians. We just aren’t Protestants. We also reject any notion that the ELCA, RCC, UMC, or other organization has the right to define what “Christian” is. We are Christians most certainly. We just aren’t them.

  4. Todd Rehm says:

    Christopher-

    Thanks for your comments.

    “Having said that, I have no problem with a Mormon president, per se. I just don’t want it to be Romney. I don’t trust him to not do whatever is politically expedient at the time.”

    Yep, that’s it in a nutshell, right there.

    “So the accuracy of “Are Mormons Christians” isn’t as simple as most would state. We are Christians. We just aren’t Protestants. We also reject any notion that the ELCA, RCC, UMC, or other organization has the right to define what “Christian” is. We are Christians most certainly. We just aren’t them.”

    Fair point. And I think the church statements aren’t so much “they aren’t allowed to call themselves Christians” but “they’re not Christians like we are”.

  5. 22bons says:

    I like a lot of things about Mitt Romney. He has apparently led an exemplary personal life. He has a long track record of success in the private sector. Importantly, he hasn’t just coasted, but used his talents to accomplish some very difficult things in life. I believe he will do the same as President, and when you compare his signature accomplishments in every phase of life over decades, he makes a compelling nominee.

    So to sum up my thoughts, our next President must accomplish difficult things in a challenging environment and I think Romney is probably the best of the bunch to do it. Sure I would have preferred Mark Sanford, or Jeb Bush, or Mitch Daniels and their more certain fiscal bona fides. But they are not in the game. Among the actual remaining candidates, I trust Romney most to be the leader we need but would be happy to see Rick Perry climb back into contention.

    I would speculate that politically, and especially fiscally, Mitt is much more conservative than he appears . Of course someone seeking office and then governing in MA will appear somewhat liberal. To win there, and then accomplish anything, any Republican would be forced to the left.

    As to who the Christians in this race are: By their fruit you will know them.

  6. T-Bone says:

    Great post, Todd. I’m surprised by how many Christians I’ve met, liberals included, who are uncomfortable with the idea of voting for a Mormon. As you say, Todd, some of the hesitation is probably rooted in ignorance. But I wonder how much of it is also the feeling of “not being one of us.” Would a Jewish politician like Eric Cantor get the same faith treatment by religious conservatives as Romney?

  7. elfiii says:

    Mormon shmormon. His faith little matters to me as much as the fact he does indeed have faith, which he clearly does.

    I can’t support him because his record screams “Shape Shifter” to me. He has not been able to convince me he has found the one true religion of Smaller Government and this time he really means it. If he were able to do so I might reconsider but personal tectonic shifts like that don’t happen during a campaign season. Its best you have that tectonic shift long before you declare for the office and you have some accomplishments in your curriculum vitae that evidence that shift. Color me skeptical at best.

    It is almost a certainty at this point he will be the nominee. I will not vote for him in the primary but will be forced to in the general. In the final exigency Obama must go and Obama being gone is indeed the final exigency in this election.

      • elfiii says:

        N.O.T.A.

        This is the first election in my life where there is no good choice. They all have flaws too great to garner my support.

        I will either sit out the Presidential Primary or, if I have the guts, show up and do an “Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe”. Of course if Ron Paul winds up being the “Moe” I will simply give the yellow plastic voting card back to the man at the table who hands out the “I Voted” stickers and depart, having not voted.

  8. Ken says:

    Todd,

    Point of personal privilege:

    1) I don’t care how they do it up North; I do care how we do it here, which was the point;
    2) I neither said nor implied nor believe that Representative Manning’s problems with Mormons – present tense because I read her apology and there is no indication those problems have disappeared – is uniquely Southern;
    3) There was no weeping, but there was gnashing of teeth; and, I stand by my statement:
    4) Would I eliminate [Romney] from consideration because he is a Mormon? No, because to do so would be stupid.

    My problems with Mitt Romney (sorry, John Konop) are three-fold.
    First, based upon his changing position over a relatively short period of time, I do wonder about his commitment to conservative principles. As an addendum he seems to believe the 2nd amendment refers to the right to hunt.
    Second, I am concerned that he will not be aggressive about the reduction in the size and scope of the federal government and the GOP will get one shot at this if we control both houses of Congress and the Presidency.
    Third, I am concerned about whom he would nominate as Supreme Court Justices and Federal Judges.

    Having said all of that, I’m happy a nearly complete misinterpretation of my meaning, could launch a post that was brave to publish and should generate some much-needed discussion.

    Carry on Todd; well done.

    • 22bons says:

      1. Judging all of the remaining candidates by the same standard reveals a set of politicians who all shift their rhetorical positions when it is necessary to win. Newt is the smartest and bestest at it, while Romney is a little clumsy though clearly more skilled this time around. Of course Romney was pushed/pulled farther to the left when running and then when governing in MA than any of the remaining candiates have been by their respective electorates. Excluding Paul, all of them have demonstrated the willingness to say what is necessary to win. I see little difference between them in this regard. The difference is a matter of degree and stategic context.

      2. Other than cheap talk on aggressive tax reform (cheap because it isn’t accompanied by specific cuts in spending and/or a history of approving increased spending) what about the remaining non-Romney’s gives you greater confidence in their committment to reducing the size and scope of federal government? IMO, Newt and Santorum have zero credibility given support for things like Medicare part D. Perry has a little more credibility in this area, but it’s not really an apples to apples comparison as he governed a strong red state while Mitt was stuck dealing with a near supermajority of blue state liberals.

      3. Regarding appointments to the court, Robert Bork is advising Mitt Romney. What specifically causes you more concern with Mitt than with the remaining candidates?

      • Ken says:

        I also have problems with all of the candidates and could do a good five minutes on why each of them is flawed. I do think; however, just based upon how the candidates justify their positions that Newt, Santorum and Perry have more of a conservative foundation than Romney.

        2. Some candidates, including Ron Paul of course, have stated specific agencies they would cut. In fact, Romney did so at the AFP summit, but while his cuts were specific I didn’t hear Dept of Education, Dept of Energy, etc. They were cuts around the edges.

        3. Judge Bork is wonderful, but if you recall even he had some 2nd amendment issues and advising is not deciding.

        4. I keep waiting to hear Romney’s Road to Damascus moment when he became more conservative. He ran away from Ronald Reagan when he campaigned in Massachusetts (“I was an independent”), so what changed? Where is the foundation for conservative beliefs? I’m sorry, but I don’t see it.

        BTW, I voted for Romney in’08 because at that point he was the only candidate who had a chance to stop McCain in the GOP primary. I saw where John McCain was going and it was the disaster I predicted.

        • L. Max Lehmann says:

          +$15.3Trillion

          How frustrating is it that so many people of good heart and mind can agree on the nature of the problem, yet solutions are so vexing, so unobtainable?

          We all have neighbors that freely admit they have not been paying attention to politics for some time, and now they are genuinely, deeply afraid of US financial default, further downgrades, lack of future credit-worthiness.

          I lack no doubt we can stop a furtherance of an American spiral downward, I am less sure that we will.

          People who have worked all of their lives, hard, made right choices, and now look into the breech of their harvest years with fear and trepidation. Or, young people discouraged they may have missed their shot at the American dream, with a mortgaged future.

          This election cycle will have many quotes worth keeping, I like this one from elfii:
          “In the final exigency Obama must go and Obama being gone is indeed the final exigency in this election.”

          IF and only IF the Congress can agree upon actually become true champions of fiscally sound policy. Intelligent spending and spending cuts eluded the Super Committee, after an unprecedented downgrade ‘warning bell.’

          I am deeply fearful those diagnosed with chronic diseases, who are insured, have resources, will suffer. Those who are sick and have no resources may suffer more. That’s what happens when we cut ‘entitlements.’

          I am concerned US military strength may be diminished to a point where our creditors can bully foreign policy in ways we find unacceptable. That’s what happens when we cut the military without great care.

          • Ken says:

            I lack no doubt we can stop a furtherance of an American spiral downward, I am less sure that we will.

            Max, my friend, you have skillfully cut to the very heart of the matter. I am extremely concerned.

            I’ve also been worried about China’s military resurgence and modernization since the Clinton Administration, but especially the past five years. They are transforming a mostly-defensive, coastal navy to a powerful offensive blue-water navy. This is bad for us and for our dependence on oil from overseas.

            • benevolus says:

              Perhaps it is inevitable. And it might not even be all that bad. Being the best country in the world doesn’t require being the dominant country. We’re no threat to China. We are their customers. They will need to make us happy. In the meantime, we get to build a society worthy of our founders. The days of Manifest Destiny are over. We do not need to keep conquering. Phase 2 is upon us.

              • L. Max Lehmann says:

                We don’t conquer, we protect our interests. Trade partners typically do not goto war, though competition may be brutal.

                If the US had a cogent energy policy developing our huge reserves, for our own and exclusive use, many of our needs to protect or even care about foreign interests would be eliminated.

                Be careful of what you wish for, if you ain’t the lead dog in the pack, following the lead dog offers an unpleasant view that never changes…

                • benevolus says:

                  You are talking about nationalizing the oil industry? I am not saying I disagree, but this is a weird place to hear that!

                  • L. Max Lehmann says:

                    No, I am talking about a national energy policy that protects our environment, sensibly, while developing huge, known reserves. Even after millions in research, development and construction at Yucca Mtn., the US lacks a clear policy on disposal of existing and future nuclear waste.

                    Free enterprise all the way; give incentives to business for developing innovative ‘green’ solutions, instead of mandatory regs.

        • 22bons says:

          My only concern is with the meme that Mitt Romney who is very probably our nominee is being singled for criticism as a moderate unprincipled flip flopper when in fact he’s more or less like all the others and has much to recommend him.

  9. SallyForth says:

    But enough about all that — what we really need to know is Where was he born and was he “natural born”? 🙂

  10. Rick Day says:

    And now, back to reality:

    All-ya’ll GOPhers got a problem.

    Not that this is new but..a NEW problem.

    That scrappy-snappy Ross Perot looking guy that everyone on the Anointment Committee has feverishly and foolishly ignored during The Debate Of The Stars™.

    Good old Gary Johnson. The only anti-prohibitionist with an actual track record of conservative SUCCESSFUL values being effectively applied to a bloated budget (unlike, say, Ron Paul).
    While you guys were swooning over Cain, Johnson gets locked out of the dialogue…. *shakes head*

    And now, you got yourselves a real potential spoiler on the ballot of all 50 states. once the locks come off the LP money chest. So who you gonna fight more, the enemy on your left flank or the one on your right?

    I am beginning to understand, however, that some of you will never change. All you can do is follow the Anointed Ones™.

    • Ken says:

      There are at least a couple of us who like Johnson here.

      It’s up to YOU, Detective Day, to determine which – and I was in the library with Miss Scarlett, and no, what we were doing is none of your business.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      Gary Johnson won’t get 8% nationally, and I’ll stake your life on that, if you want to accept the wager.

  11. GaConservative23 says:

    I don’t care about Romney’s religion and I also truly believe he’s a Conservative.

    He actually governed to the right of me on some issues, including his vetoing of a bill that would allow emergency contraception for rape victims.

    And a lot of the things that ended up in RomneyCare were put in there by the Massachusetts legislature, which was 85% Democratic during his administration. In fact, he vetoed 8 different portions of that bill that were all overriden. He also vetoed over 250 items in the Massachusetts state budget throughout his tenure, which were all overridden.

    He was also anti-gay marriage throughout his tenure, though the State Supreme Court legalized it.

    This ongoing narrative that he’s only become Conservative in the last few years is completely untrue.

  12. OleDirtyBarrister says:

    Gary Johnson as governor pleased the conservatives in New Mexico, and has something to talk about in putting a blue state with a liberal legislature on a conservative trajectory and improving it. Then Richardson entered office and screwed it up again, which presents an clear contrast for people to examine. He and Mitch Daniels both could be serious candidates based on records. Even Perry has a pretty good record as a governor.

    But Johnson has to be able to run a campaign and get a message out there to be a viable candidate as a party candidate or as an independent. So far, he has not demonstrated any competence as a national candidate, even less than Perry, in fact. Johnson is not ready for prime time either, and has not shown any ability to put together a nucleus and establish serious momentum. Ron Paul would be more trouble as an independent than Johnson simply because he is known by more people and would detract more votes. It could change, but Johnson just has not shown any national campaigning acumen. Just how hard would it have been for him to get on the air with Limbaugh, Hannity, Cunningham, etc., on Fox, on local talk radio in Iowa and NH.

  13. Doug Deal says:

    From dictionary.com

    Christianity – n
    1. of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings: a Christian faith.

    2. of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ: Spain is a Christian country.

    3. of or pertaining to Christians: many Christian deaths in the Crusades.

    4. exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ; Christlike: She displayed true Christian charity.

    5. decent; respectable: They gave him a good Christian burial.

    Where does it say in there that it requires the approval of some evangelical preacher to be labeled a Christian? Also, how many of that portion of evangelicals that believe Mormons and even Catholics are not Christians are actually Christians themselves by the real definition (especially #5), instead of the one forged in hatred and bigotry?

    Where did Christ teach one to judge their neighbors while ignoring their own faults? How many can say they display Christ’s charity and brotherly love? How many could be labeled decent?

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