Americas

Churchgoing Protestants Not Embracing Romney

Giuliani fares better among this group

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- In order to win the 2008 election, it is important for the Republican presidential candidate to fare well among religious Protestants, a core GOP constituency. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, faces a unique challenge in trying to win the support of these voters, who have a decidedly negative view of the Mormon Church.

An analysis of recent Gallup Poll data shows that Romney is viewed almost as negatively as positively by churchgoing Protestants, while the other major Republican contenders are viewed much more positively than negatively by this group. National Gallup polls also show Romney fares worse among churchgoing Protestants when Republicans are asked for their preferred presidential nominee than he does among the party more generally.

Protestants and the Mormon Religion

Differences in their views of Christ and of scripture have divided Mormons from those of Christian faiths. In fact, because of these differences some Christians do not consider Mormonism to be a Christian faith at all, even though they share the basic belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior. In February, a Gallup Poll found that 52% of Protestants* had a negative opinion of the Mormon Church, but an even higher 64% of Protestants who attend church weekly did so. That compares to a 46% negative rating among all Americans.

That negativity extends to the political sphere to a large degree -- combined data from February and March Gallup polls found 37% of churchgoing Protestants saying they would not vote for a qualified Mormon candidate for president, significantly higher than the 26% of all Protestants and the 22% of all Americans who said the same. Churchgoing Protestants did not show similar opposition to voting for either a Catholic or a Jewish presidential candidate.

Thus, it is clear that Romney has a lot to overcome to win the support of religious Protestants, and recent Gallup poll data make clear that, to this point, he has not been overly successful in doing so. The following analyses are based on combined data from the last three Gallup polls that included respondents' religious affiliation, their reported churchgoing behavior, and their ratings of the leading presidential candidates. All told, the data include interviews with more than 3,000 Americans and 1,700 Protestants, conducted between Aug. 13 and Sept. 16, 2007.

Opinions of Romney Among Churchgoing Protestants

Gallup gauges overall candidate appeal by asking Americans whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of a candidate. Thirty-two percent of churchgoing Protestants view Romney favorably and 29% view him unfavorably -- resulting in a net favorable rating of +3.

That net favorable rating among churchgoing Protestants is far worse than those of his chief rivals for the Republican presidential nomination -- former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson (+26), Arizona Senator John McCain (+21), and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani (+19). Even worse for Romney, two Democratic presidential candidates -- Illinois Senator Barack Obama (+10) and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards (+9) -- have better net favorable ratings among this traditionally Republican group than does Romney. Only New York Senator Hillary Clinton is viewed more negatively by churchgoing Protestants than is Romney.

Opinions of Leading Presidential Candidates
Among Churchgoing Protestants

Net Favorable Rating

Favorable

Unfavorable

No opinion

 

%

%

%

Fred Thompson

+25

41

16

43

John McCain

+21

52

31

17

Rudy Giuliani

+19

53

34

13

Barack Obama

+10

47

37

16

John Edwards

+9

46

37

17

Mitt Romney

+3

32

29

39

Hillary Clinton

-11

43

54

3

As a Catholic who has taken liberal positions on many social issues, Giuliani may have his own challenges in gaining religious Protestants' support. Because of his pro-choice position on abortion in particular, some religious conservatives have threatened to consider supporting a third-party candidate if neither major party presidential nominees supports the pro-life platform.

Giuliani's +19 favorable rating among churchgoing Protestants is still one of the best of the leading candidates, and little different from his +23 rating among all Americans.   

Romney fares only slightly better when looking only at the views of churchgoing Protestants who identify as Republicans (including independents who lean to the Republican Party). Among this group, Romney's net favorable rating is +15 (41% favorable, 26% unfavorable). However, that still pales in comparison to the net favorable rating churchgoing Protestant Republicans give to Thompson (+46), Giuliani (+45) and McCain (+41). 

Opinions of Romney Among Other Religious Groups

Romney's relatively poor performance among churchgoing Protestants has apparently more to due with respondents' religious affiliations than their level of religious commitment. For example, practicing Catholics view Romney substantially more positively (40%) than negatively (24%), resulting in a +16 net favorable rating. Despite the generally positive review from practicing Catholics, Romney is still rated less positively than the other Republican contenders among this group, although he rates as well or better than all of the Democrats

Practicing Catholics seem willing to overlook Giuliani's liberal social views as his net favorable rating among this group is the highest at +38.

Opinions of Leading Presidential Candidates
Among Churchgoing Catholics

Net Favorable Rating

Favorable

Unfavorable

No opinion

 

%

%

%

Rudy Giuliani

+38

64

26

10

John McCain

+29

57

28

16

Fred Thompson

+25

42

17

41

John Edwards

+17

50

33

17

Mitt Romney

+16

40

24

36

Barack Obama

+11

46

35

19

Hillary Clinton

-9

43

52

5

Winning over religious Protestants might not be Romney's greatest challenge in terms of being elected president. He is easily the lowest rated presidential candidate among those who express no religious affiliation, with twice as many rating him unfavorably (37%) as favorably (18%). Non-religious Americans tend to be disproportionately Democratic in their political orientation; they generally view the Democratic candidates more positively than the Republicans. However, views of Giuliani and McCain are still slightly more positive than negative.

Opinions of Leading Presidential Candidates
Among Those With No Religious Affiliation

Net Favorable Rating

Favorable

Unfavorable

No opinion

 

%

%

%

Barack Obama

+41

61

20

18

John Edwards

+22

51

29

20

Hillary Clinton

+11

53

42

5

Rudy Giuliani

+8

45

37

18

John McCain

+4

42

38

20

Fred Thompson

-3

25

28

48

Mitt Romney

-19

18

37

44

Support for the Republican Nomination

Romney is currently running in fourth place in preference polls for the Republican presidential nomination, with 10% of support among Republicans nationwide. As one would expect given the analysis of his favorable ratings, his support is lower among churchgoing Protestants (7%) than among all other Republicans (12%).

Giuliani's potential struggles among religious Protestants are evident in these data -- his 23% support among this group compares to 36% support among all other Republicans.  Thus, while Giuliani is rated just as favorably as Thompson and McCain by religious Protestants, they are less likely than other Republicans to support him for the nomination. 

Thompson and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee pick up additional support from churchgoing Protestants. In fact, at 10%, Huckabee, an ordained minister, is outpolling Romney among churchgoing Protestants, even though he receives the support of just 4% of all Republicans.

Thompson's better showing among religious Protestants and Giuliani's worse showing give the former Tennessee senator a slight but not statistically significant lead among this group, 26% to 23%. McCain is in third place at 16%, followed by Huckabee and Romney.

Republican Nomination Preferences
Churchgoing Protestant Republicans vs. All Republicans

 

All Republicans

Churchgoing Protestant Republicans

 

All Other Republicans

%

%

%

Fred Thompson

21

26

19

Rudy Giuliani

32

23

36

John McCain

15

16

14

Mike Huckabee

4

10

2

Mitt Romney

10

7

12

Ron Paul

3

2

3

Sam Brownback

2

2

2

Tom Tancredo

1

1

1

Duncan Hunter

1

1

2

Other

1

1

1

 

 

 

No opinion

10

11

10

Implications

When Gallup asked Americans earlier this year about their willingness to vote for a non-traditional presidential candidate, it was clear that a Mormon presidential candidate would have a tougher time getting elected than a black candidate, a women, a Catholic, or a Hispanic, even though the large majority of Americans say they would vote for a qualified presidential candidate with any of those characteristics.

Romney's challenge is made greater by the fact that one of the groups least likely to embrace a Mormon presidential candidate makes up a critical component of his party's base.

So far, Romney has been successful at fundraising, which has helped him to win support in key early primary states. Even if Romney eventually wins the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary, his candidacy could stall in the subsequent southern state primaries and caucuses unless he can improve his standing among religious Protestants.

* For the purposes of this analysis, "Protestants" include all those who identify as Protestants when asked their religions affiliation, all those who identify as a specific Protestant denomination (e.g., "Lutheran"), and all those who identify as only "Christian" but do not specify any denomination of Christianity. 

Survey Methods

Results for combined data from Gallup polls conducted Aug. 13-Sept. 16, 2007, are based on interviews with 3,037 U.S. adults, age 18 and older. For results based on this sample, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 1,731 Protestants and "Christians," the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 635 Protestants who attend church weekly, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 357 Protestants who attend church weekly and identify or lean to the Republican Party, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 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.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/28858/Churchgoing-Protestants-Embracing-Romney.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030