Ever since Mitt Romney's unsuccessful run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, there has been much discussion of whether GOP voters would accept a Mormon candidate. Would evangelical conservatives, in particular, look past the former Massachusetts governor's faith to vote for him? The underlying assumption was that the more conservative the views, the more intolerant the voter.
Now, it turns out a better question might be whether Democratic voters would accept a Mormon candidate. In a survey that cuts against the media stereotype, a new Gallup Poll has found that more Democrats than Republicans say they would not vote for a Mormon for president. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats say they wouldn't vote for a Mormon, while 18 percent of Republicans say the same. For independents, the figure is 19 percent.
Of course, the two Mormons in the race, Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, are both Republicans. But should either win the GOP nomination, they'll be looking for all the votes they can get, including those of independents and disaffected Democrats. Anti-Mormon bias among any of those groups can't help.
Ask church officials about the party disparity, and they carefully avoid the question. "We are politically neutral," says Michael Purdy, spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "and are pleased when good men and women decide to participate in the political process and serve with integrity."
But talk to church representatives about the general issue of Mormon acceptance, and you'll get a glimpse of how they view the party divide. As they see it, familiarity tends to breed acceptance. "We have found that as others get to know us that reservations they may have about us tend to lessen," says Purdy. "The church is growing, and people are increasingly likely to know a member of the faith -- a friend, a colleague, a neighbor."
In other words, when people don't know any Mormons and don't know much about Mormonism, they tend to view Mormon candidates with suspicion. Once they become more familiar with the church and its members, they become more relaxed about it.
Many Mormons are quite conservative, and of course Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country. It's possible that a significant number of Democrats and blue-state residents, some of them cocooned in liberal enclaves, just don't know many Mormons and harbor negative ideas and stereotypes about the unknown.