Most voters continue to say it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs. But voters have limited awareness of the religious faiths of both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. And there is little evidence to suggest that concerns about the candidates’ respective faiths will have a meaningful impact in the fall elections.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, reveals that 60 percent of voters are aware that Romney is Mormon, virtually unchanged from four months ago, during the GOP primaries.
The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully 80 percent of voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60%) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21%).
The new survey on religion and politics also finds that nearly four years into his presidency the view that Barack Obama is Muslim persists. Currently, 17 percent of registered voters say that Obama is Muslim; 49 percent say he is Christian, while 31 percent say they do not know Obama’s religion.
The percentage of voters identifying Obama’s religion as Christian has increased since August 2010, from 38 percent to 49 percent, while there has been little change in the percentage saying he is Muslim. Still, fewer say Obama is Christian--and more say he is Muslim--than did so in October 2008, near the end of the last presidential campaign. The increase since 2008 is particularly concentrated among conservative Republicans, about a third of whom describe the president as a Muslim.
Overall, 45 percent of voters say they are comfortable with Obama’s religion, while 19 percent are uncomfortable. Among those who say Obama is Christian, 82 percent are comfortable with Obama’s religious beliefs. Among those who describe him as a Muslim, just 26 percent are comfortable with his beliefs.
Among the key findings of the new survey:
- Romney’s Religion Not Costing Him Support. Overwhelming majorities of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who know Romney is Mormon support him, whether they are comfortable with his religion or not. However, Romney supporters who are uncomfortable with his Mormonism are less enthusiastic about his candidacy than those who are not bothered by his faith.
- More Polarized Views of Obama’s Religion. Discomfort with Obama’s religion is predominantly concentrated among those who say he is Muslim. And there is a much stronger partisan component in views of Obama’s religion than Romney’s. More than a third of Republican and Republican leaning registered voters say they are uncomfortable with Obama’s religion; just 16 percent of Democratic voters say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s religion.
- Most See Religion’s Influence Declining. Two-thirds of Americans say religion as a whole is losing its influence on American life. That is little changed from 2010, but among the highest percentages saying religion is losing its influence since the question was first asked in a Gallup poll in 1957. A small but growing share of Americans say it is good that religion’s influence is declining: Currently, 12 percent say this, up from 6 percent in 2006.
- Liberals, Conservative Christians and Religion in Society. More Americans (65 percent) say liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of the schools and the government than say that conservative Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country (48 percent). About a quarter of Americans say both sides have gone too far when it comes to religion--liberals in trying to keep it out of schools and government, and conservative Christians in trying to impose religious values.