McKay Coppins describes an online study on the effect that knowledge about Mormonism has on support for Romney:
According to the study, a full 82 percent of respondents said they knew “little” or “nothing” about Mormonism, and researchers found that feeding them even a couple sentences of basic information about the church’s beliefs had the ability to swing wide swaths of the electorate in terms of their support for Romney.
For the first group, Romney’s religion was not identified at all; for the second group, it was, but without any additional information; the third group was told that Romney is a Mormon, and that Mormons believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible; the final group was given a three-sentence primer on Romney’s faith, including a brief explanation of the Book of Mormon and founding prophet Joseph Smith.
If the vast majority knows so little about the religion and just a few sentences can swing large numbers of respondents to change their support for Romney, that suggests that the potential damage from misleading and hostile representations of the religion could be very great. What I find striking about the study’s results is that his support among both white evangelicals and conservatives is so low even after it improves under optimal conditions. White evangelical respondents support Romney at consistent levels regardless of the information they are given, and that support is between 44% and 49%. If Romney receives 49% support from white evangelicals in November, that would be abysmally bad. That would be almost thirty points lower than Bush in 2004. Likewise, the highest level of support for Romney among conservatives is 73%, which is over ten points below Bush’s 2004 exit poll figure. The study’s authors acknowledge that they were not working with a representative national sample, so these results may not be all that meaningful, but I fail to see how they can be meaningful and still be good news for Romney.
One additional significant flaw in the study’s methodology is that the information in the “brief explanation” was as neutral in its language as possible. If one wants to assess the effect of Mormonism on how voters will respond to Romney, one needs to present respondents with the sort of information about Mormonism’s theological differences that they are likely to encounter in the coming months. For example, does it matter to these respondents that Mormons have a very different doctrine of God from that of orthodox Trinitarians? We have no idea, because they are never presented with that information, and according to the study’s report the vast majority of respondents was poorly-informed about Mormonism. Maybe it won’t matter, or maybe this is something that is already known and taken into account, but it can’t be measured unless someone asks the right questions.
P.S. I should add that respondents are asked to choose between Romney and Obama. Support for Romney isn’t being expressed in isolation. Faced with the choice between Romney and Obama, less than half of white evangelical respondents chose Romney.