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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Explaining the 37% . . . Religious Bigots? The Uninformed/Uneducated? or Politically Calculating Liberal Democrats?

Yesterday, there were two articles here (Bloomberg) and here (LA Times) reporting on a poll gauging what religions Americans feel least comfortable about in hypothetical presidential candidates. I linked to these articles and gave some opinions on the results a couple of blog entries ago. However, further thought, discussion, and reading on the matter has brought some other interesting findings to the surface.

If there's one thing I know, it's to NOT trust the conclusions (or even impressions) of journalists when they are analyzing data (sure, there are some really bright ones . . . but it's well established that, among educated adults, they aren't the bastion of brains that many would have you believe). Also, I always look at the source of information when gauging it's possible "agenda", and the L.A. Times is well recognized as one of the most liberal news sources in the nation; that they would want to cast doubt on a prominent GOP candidate who stands to draw significant support moderate voters is not surprising.

Also, to reach sound conclusions one must start with sound premises . . . in this case, a poll must ask the right questions and to the right people (I think that the actual questions asked should be made public if they are going to publicly publish the "results.") This poll, unfortunately, probably didn't ask the right questions and it definitely didn't ask the right people; the resulting incorrect conclusions may discourage some potential Romney supporters.

First off, the explanation of how the poll was conducted states " The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,321 adults nationwide by telephone June 24 through 27. . . . Results were weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region." Conforming with census figures is a bad way to gauge what "likely voters" would do in at the ballot box. The number opposed to a hypothetical Mormon candidate dropped to 35% among registered voters and, I would guess, would drop even more among those that actually would make the effort to get to the polls (AKA "likely voters").
"Support for a Mormon candidate tends to rise with education and income levels, the poll shows. Sixty-six percent of college graduates and 70 percent of those with incomes of more than $100,000 a year say they could vote for a Mormon presidential candidate."

So the number drops to 34 % for college graduates and 30% for high income earners. So, who are these 30% of high income earners that are opposed to a hypothetical LDS presidential candidate? I propose that nearly all of these are Democrats, mostly coming from self-described "liberal Democrats" who, as a political group, are the most intolerant to the idea of a Mormon president at 50%. They know that Mormons are, almost invariably, the antithesis of their pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, socially and fiscally liberal platform and policies. Obviously, this large block of voters won't matter in the GOP primary, and I don't think Romney would be expecting to get their vote in a general election anyways. So I count them as a non-factor.

As the articles describe, there is as much political ideology represented in the 37% figure as possibly, anything else. How else do you explain the following?
" . . . 22 percent of registered voters say they wouldn't support an evangelical Christian . . ."
The same group of liberal Democrats are rearing their heads here. One alternative explanation is that there is a proportion of moderate or fiscally conservative Republicans that are opposed to strongly religious hypothetical candidates (still wary of the sometimes radical "religious Right").

So, in an attempt to exclude these politically calculating liberal Democrats simple subtraction between the "registered voters" opposed to Mormons (35%) and Evangelicals (22%) is only 13% (I will address this remaining 13% below.) These two religious groups are as near to "block voters" for Republicans as any of the other religious designations and so the opposition to them is understandable.
"14 percent wouldn't back a Jewish candidate, and 9 percent say no to a Catholic. Fifty-three percent say they wouldn't vote for a Muslim."
Catholics are definitely more politically diverse as evidenced by prominent politicians on both sided of the aisle; Sam Brownback and Jeb Bush for the Republicans/John Kerry and the Kennedy's for the Democrats. Most people have either already voted for a Catholic for president (Democrats/Independents) or know they would support someone like Jeb Bush.

The Jewish number can be ascribed, in part, to the fact that people are hesitant to fulfill the stereotype of being an anti-Semite. Also, the popularity of Joe Lieberman comes into play . . . again, because nearly all Democrats have recently already voted for a Jew on a presidential ticket. I don't completely buy the conclusion from the articles that Americans are really that much more tolerant of Catholic or Jewish religions than the other religions listed.

This highlights a major point, that we are all creatures of habit and generally fear to tread into the unknown. Who can say that they've already voted for a Mormon for a high office? The percentage has to be somewhere in the low single digits. This is part of the reason that their implication that Mormonism is a major obstacle for Romney is vastly overblown.

So, back to the 13% difference between Mormons and Evangelicals . . . this is the only percentage that I think potentially relates to a religious/doctrinal objection to a hypothetical LDS presidential candidate and the only percentage that would matter in a GOP primary or among the "swing vote" in a general election. This fits pretty closely with the 1998-9 figure from the fledgling Orrin Hatch campaign where 17% of Evangelicals said that they wouldn't vote for a Mormon (I think I'm quoting that one right . . . I've heard it lots, but if anyone could point me to the source I would appreciate it!)

Turning those two figures on their head, we could stretch to say that 83% of Evangelicals would vote for a Mormon and 87% of people from the recent poll do not have a religious/doctrinal objection to a hypothetical LDS candidate. Any viable candidate could work with those numbers!

But wait, there's more! (Is this reading link an "infomercial" yet?). The religious objection will assuredly abate as the campaign wears on. Much of the objection is based on misinformation or lack of information altogether. As people realize that Mormons haven't practiced polygamy for over 100 years, that Mormons believe all that Christ taught and view him as the Savior, and that Mormons are pretty darn normal people in day to day life who usually try to live what they believe, there will be less and less concern about having one as a Chief Executive.

However, the majority of any remaining objection will disappear as people evaluate Romney as a candidate and are impressed with his candor, accomplishments, and policies. In the end, I see the fact that Romney is LDS being the deciding factor for maybe 3-7% in a GOP primary and definitely less than 5% in a general election. This handicap will be offset by the strong grassroots movement and financial support that individual mormons will give to Romney, especially in a swing state like here in Iowa.

History tends to repeat itself . . . the LA Times article says:
Indeed, in a Roper poll from June 1960, 35% of respondents said either that it might be better not to have a Catholic president or that they would be against it. Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy gave a speech on the subject of his religion that September, and he was elected president two months later.
So, the answer to the question in my title about what factor is responsible for the 37% is, not surprisingly, "All of the above."

4 comments:

Jeff Fuller said...

O.K.

I know that I'm a bit loquacious in writing.

Paul at Coloradans for Romney has summarized these points much more tersely at http://coloradansforromney.blogspot.com/2006/07/oops-poll-article-about-voters-and.html

Pondering American said...

Hey like your blog and will link it in a article tonight. Will prob also put you on my sidebar. I am looking at Huckabee and Brownback but I have not crossed off Romney by any means. I agree this whole religion thing is overblown. I expect down here in the South it will not hurt him very much

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