A new Brookings Institute study finds voters may be less disinclined toward Romney's Mormonism than previously thought. Results find priming respondents about Romney's religion has little statistical impact on vote choice. These findings should be welcomed as we strive toward a society comprised of individuals not groups.
The claim typically levied against Romney's electability is often based on a Gallup poll finding 22 percent of the electorate would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.
Researchers employed a "treatment and control" type method in which different information about Romney was given to different respondents, and then all respondents were asked if they planned to vote for Romney or Obama in November. This allowed the researchers to measure the impact different information has on vote choice.
Researchers recruited 2,084 survey participants through Amazon.com to fill out a computer survey. Respondents were then randomly assigned to one of four different groups. Respondents were statistically similar across all groups. Researchers then randomly assigned one of the following information pieces to each of the four groups:
A: Mitt Romney is seeking the Republican nomination to run for president against Democrat Barack Obama this fall.
B: Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is seeking the Republican nomination to run for president against Democrat Barack Obama this fall.
C: Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is seeking the Republican nomination to run for president against Democrat Barack Obama this fall. The Mormon Church believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the Bible is the word of God.
D: Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is seeking the Republican nomination to run for president against Democrat Barack Obama this fall. In addition to accepting the Bible as the word of God, the Mormon Church also believes that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. The Mormon Church believes the Book of Mormon was written on golden plates by ancient inhabitants of America whom Jesus Christ visited shortly after his resurrection. The Church also believes that the book was later discovered in 1823 when Joseph Smith found it buried in upstate New York.
After reading one of these four information pieces, all respondents were asked if they planned to vote for Obama or Romney in November.
Group A was not "primed" about Romney's Mormonism. Group B was primed to consider Romney's religion. Group C primed respondents about Romney's religion but emphasized the similarities between mainstream Christianity and the LDS faith. Group D was primed with information highlighting differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity.
If Mormonism has a significant dampening effect on Romney's electability, we would expect Group A to be significantly more likely to vote for Romney than Groups B, C, or D. Moreover, we'd expect Group D to be least likely to vote for him. However, the results tell a different story. In fact Romney's support did not vary significantly across the four groups.
This study is not definitive. The sample was not nationally representative, and one could argue that most of the respondents were aware of Romney's religion before being primed with different information pieces. Nevertheless, we'd expect some sort of difference given the different kinds of information provided.
These findings should be welcomed news as we strive for a society comprised of individuals not groups. Seeing people in terms of groups is indeed a collectivist concept. Judging Romney on his own merits and policy positions rather than as a member of some monolithic group is a step toward societal progress.