Some Americans Reluctant to Vote for Mormon, 72-Year-Old Presidential Candidates

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Strong support for black, women, Catholic candidates

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- With arguably the most diverse field of candidates in U.S. history to choose from, Americans will have to decide how comfortable they are electing a person who is not a white Protestant male as president. Whereas in past elections non-traditional candidates were often long-shots to win their party's nominations, let alone the presidency, many of the leading candidates in the early stages of the 2008 election process are not cut from the typical presidential cloth, making this issue more salient than ever.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll updated a question first asked in 1937 about the public's willingness to vote for presidential candidates from a variety of different genders, religions, and other backgrounds. While Americans overwhelmingly say they would vote for a black, woman, Catholic, or Hispanic president, they are less likely to say they would support a Mormon candidate, one who is 72 years old, or one who has been married three times.

The Feb. 9-11, 2007, poll asked Americans whether they would vote for "a generally well-qualified" presidential candidate nominated by their party with each of the following characteristics: Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, an atheist, a woman, black, Hispanic, homosexual, 72 years of age, and someone married for the third time.

Between now and the 2008 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be …, would you vote for that person?

Yes, would
vote for

No, would not
vote for

%

%

Catholic

95

4

Black

94

5

Jewish

92

7

A woman

88

11

Hispanic

87

12

Mormon

72

24

Married for the third time

67

30

72 years of age

57

42

A homosexual

55

43

An atheist

45

53

The Republican frontrunner, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, is Catholic, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, currently running second in the Democratic nomination trial heats, is black. Americans express little hesitation about putting a person with either of those backgrounds in the White House -- 95% would vote for a Catholic candidate for president and 94% would vote for a black candidate.

There is currently no major Jewish candidate running in either party, but if one were, his or her religion would not appear to be a liability: 92% of Americans say they would be willing to support a Jewish presidential candidate.

The Democratic frontrunner, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, would be the first woman elected president. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans, 88%, say they would vote for a woman for president. Eighty-seven percent also say they would vote for a Hispanic candidate, and Democrat New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is trying to become the first Hispanic president, though his candidacy has not attracted a great deal of support thus far.

The leading Republican candidates, including Giuliani, may run up against a bit more trouble with voter biases, as each has something in their background that may limit their appeal to the electorate. While Giuliani's religion does not appear to be an obstacle, the fact that he has been married three times could be. Though two-thirds of Americans say they would vote for a presidential candidate who is married for the third time, 30% say they would not.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon faith has been widely discussed as he has started campaigning in earnest. Twenty-four percent of Americans say they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, although 72% say they would.

Arizona Sen. John McCain will be 72 years old at the time of the 2008 election, which would make him the oldest person ever elected president. According to the poll, his age may be a bigger hurdle for McCain than those Giuliani or Romney would have to overcome. Forty-two percent of Americans say they would not vote for a 72-year-old candidate, even though the majority (57%) still would. That is about the same willingness found for a hypothetical homosexual candidate (55%). An atheist would seem to have the hardest time getting elected president, as a majority of Americans (53%) say they would not vote for a presidential candidate who was an atheist.

It is important to note that these results mainly give a sense of potential obstacles that candidates face in convincing voters to elect them president, but cannot by themselves predict the chances of a black candidate or a woman candidate being elected, for example. While a woman or a Catholic may have less to overcome than a Mormon in attracting the necessary support to be president, that does not mean a Mormon would always lose to a Catholic or a woman. Each candidate's chances will depend on how well he or she addresses voter concerns during the campaign. For example, when Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole each sought the presidency, roughly two in three Americans said that their advanced age was not a problem -- suggesting a lower level of voter trepidation about candidates' ages in specific circumstances than the current poll might indicate is the case in the abstract.

Mormon Faith, Multiple Marriages Could Be Factor in Republican Primaries

While a majority of Americans from the major demographic subgroups would vote for any of these hypothetical candidates, the likelihood of doing so varies by respondent's political ideology. Conservatives are less willing than moderates or liberals to vote for candidates with several of the characteristics, including being of Mormon faith or married three times. This could make things somewhat more difficult for Romney or Giuliani to prevail in the Republican primaries, since conservatives make up the base of the Republican Party.

Willingness to Vote for Non-Traditional Presidential Candidates
by Political Ideology

Liberal

Moderate

Conservative

%

%

%

Catholic

97

95

94

Black

95

94

92

Jewish

93

91

91

A woman

96

89

82

Hispanic

92

87

84

Mormon

75

77

66

Married three times

74

71

60

72 years of age

59

52

63

A homosexual

81

57

36

An atheist

67

48

29

On the other hand, conservatives are as supportive, if not more so, than liberals or moderates of a 72-year-old candidate. However, since about as many conservatives would be willing to support a 72-year-old candidate (63%) as would support a Mormon (66%) or a candidate on his third marriage (60%), McCain would not necessarily gain an advantage over his chief rivals for the Republican nomination.

Apart from ideology, there are also differences according to educational attainment. Those who have attended college are in general more likely to support candidates with any of the characteristics than those with a high school education or less. That is especially the case in regard to candidates who are Hispanic (93% among college-educated versus 76% among non-college educated), Mormon (79% versus 62%), 72 years of age (63% versus 48%), homosexual (62% versus 43%) and atheist (52% versus 32%).

Americans Growing More Accepting of Non-Traditional President

Gallup first asked a version of this question in 1937 (about candidates who were Jewish, Catholic, or women). As one might expect, Americans have become increasingly likely to express support for candidates of these and other diverse backgrounds since the late 1930s.

In 1937, just 60% of Americans said they would vote for a Catholic president, and fewer than half said this about a Jewish (46%) or a woman (33%) president. By the late 1950s, a majority of Americans had expressed willingness to vote for a Jewish or woman president, and by 1965 support for a black candidate reached majority status for good. The following table shows how support has grown on five of the items over the past 40 and 70 years.

Willingness to Vote for Non-Traditional Presidential Candidates
by Gallup polling dates

1937

1967

2007

%

%

%

Jewish

46

82

92

Black

N/A

53

94

Catholic

60

90

95

Woman

33

57

88

Mormon

N/A

75

72

One exception to the general pattern of growing acceptance comes in the case of a Mormon candidate. When Mitt Romney's father, George, sought the 1968 Republican presidential nomination, 75% of Americans said they would vote for a Mormon president. Forty years later, the percentage of Americans willing to support a Mormon for president is essentially unchanged.

Meanwhile, support for homosexual and atheist candidates has grown, though fewer would support either of those types of candidates than a Mormon. Only about one in five Americans said they would vote for an atheist when the item was first asked in the late 1950s, compared with 45% today. Just 26% said they would support a homosexual presidential candidate in 1978, compared with the current 55%.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-11, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

4. Between now and the 2008 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [ITEM A-J READ IN ORDER], would you vote for that person?

A. Jewish

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Feb 9-11

92

7

2

2003 May 30-Jun 1

89

8

3

1999 Feb 19-21

92

6

2

1987 Jul 10-13

89

6

5

1983 Apr 29-May 2

88

7

5

1978 Jul 21-24

82

12

6

1969 Mar 12-17

86

8

6

1967 Apr 19-24

82

13

5

1965 Jul 16-21

80

15

5

1963 Aug 15-20

77

17

6

1961 Aug 24-29

68

23

9

1959 Dec 10-15

72

22

6

1958 Sep 10-15

63

29

8

1958 Jul 30-Aug 4

62

28

10

1937 Feb 10-15

46

47

8

B. An atheist

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Feb 9-11

45

53

3

1999 Feb 19-21

49

48

3

1987 Aug 10-13

44

48

8

1983 Apr 29-May 2

42

51

7

1978 Jul 21-24

40

53

7

1959 Dec 10-15

22

74

5

1958 Sep 10-15

18

77

5

1958 Jul 30-Aug 4

18

75

7

C. Black

           

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Feb 9-11

94

5

1

2003 May 30-Jun 1

92

6

2

1999 Feb 19-21

95

4

1

1997 Jan 4-Feb 28

93

4

3

1987 Jul 10-13

79

13

8

1984 Jul 27-30

77

16

7

1983 Apr 29-May 2

77

16

7

1978 Jul 21-24

77

18

5

1971 Oct 8-11

69

23

7

1969 Mar 12-17

66

24

10

1967 Apr 19-24

53

41

6

1965 Jul 16-21

59

34

7

1963 Aug 15-20

48

45

7

1961 Aug 24-29

50

41

9

1959 Dec 10-15

49

46

5

1958 Sep 10-15

38

54

8

1958 Jul 30-Aug 4

37

53

10

D. Catholic

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Feb 9-11

95

4

1

2003 May 30-Jun 1

93

5

2

1999 Feb 19-21

94

4

2

1983 Apr 29-May 2

92

5

3

1978 Jul 21-24

91

4

5

1969 Mar 12-17

87

7

5

1967 Apr 19-24

90

8

2

1965 Jul 16-21

87

10

3

1963 Aug 15-20

84

13

3

1961 Aug 24-29

82

13

5

1960 May 26-31

71

21

8

1959 Dec 10-15

70

25

5

1959 Apr 2-7

70

21

9

1958 Sep 10-15

67

27

6

1958 Jul 30-Aug 4

69

24

7

1958 Jul 10-15

72

24

4

1958 May 7-12

72

21

7

1958 Apr 16-21

70

22

8

1956 May 31-Jun 5

72

22

5

1955 Jan 20-25

69

23

8

1940 Mar 27-Apr 2

61

33

7

1937 Feb 3-8

60

30

10

           

E. A homosexual

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Feb 9-11

55

43

2

1999 Feb 19-21

59

37

4

1983 Apr 29-May 2

29

64

7

1978 Jul 21-24

26

66

8

F. A woman

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Feb 9-11

88

11

1

2003 May 30-Jun 1

87

12

1

1999 Feb 19-21

92

7

1

1987 Jul 10-13

82

12

6

1984 Jul 27-30

78

17

5

1983 Apr 29-May 2

80

16

4

1978 Jul 21-24

76

19

5

1975 Aug 15-18

73

23

4

1971 Jul 15-18

66

29

5

1969 Mar 12-17

53

40

7

1967 Apr 19-24

57

39

4

1963 Aug 15-20

55

41

4

1959 Dec 10-15

57

39

4

1958 Sep 10-15

54

41

5

1955 Feb 10-15

52

44

4

1949 Sep 25-30

48

48

4

1945 Nov 23-28

33

55

12

1937 Jan 27-Feb 1

33

64

3

G. Mormon

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Feb 9-11

72

24

4

1999 Feb 19-21

79

17

4

1967 Apr 19-24

75

17

8

H. Hispanic    

Yes

No

No opinion

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

87%

12

1

                       

I. Seventy-two years of age

Yes

No

No opinion

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

57%

42

1

           

J. Married for the third time

Yes

No

No opinion

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

67%

30

3

5. (Asked of those who said "yes" to each appropriate item in Q.4) Would you be completely comfortable voting for a qualified presidential candidate who was [ITEMS READ IN ORDER], or would you have some reservations?

COMBINED RESULTS (Q.4-5): BASED ON A FULL SAMPLE

A. Black



Would vote for, comfortably

 

Would vote
for, with reservations



Would not
vote for



No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

84%

9

5

1

B. A woman



Would vote for, comfortably

 

Would vote
for, with reservations



Would not
vote for



No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

78%

10

11

1

C. Mormon



Would vote for, comfortably

 

Would vote
for, with reservations



Would not
vote for



No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

58%

14

24

4

D. Seventy-two years of age



Would vote for, comfortably

 

Would vote
for, with reservations



Would not
vote for



No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

43%

15

42

1

E. Married for the third time



Would vote for, comfortably

 

Would vote
for, with reservations



Would not
vote for



No
opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Feb 9-11

54%

13

30

3

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/26611/some-americans-reluctant-vote-mormon-72yearold-presidential-candidates.aspx
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