Saturday, September 30, 2006
Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is an asset, not a liability, in 2008 presidential sweepstakes
A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that thirty-seven percent of those questioned would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. On the surface this might seem like very bad news for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney—a Mormon who is obviously preparing for a run at the presidency in 2008.
That would be true if participants in the poll were actually passing judgment on Mormon theology. I don’t believe that is the case at all. Though most Americans consider themselves Christian, few concern themselves with the intricacies of Christian theology. The vast majority could not accurately describe any difference between their personal Christian theology and the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. No, this poll isn’t about Mormon theology. It’s about the political views held by the vast majority of Mormons. And that’s actually very good news for Governor Romney.
Well, consider what the result would have been if the Los Angeles Times asked respondents if they would vote for a conservative Republican presidential candidate who thought abortion should be illegal and same-sex marriage banned. I’m willing to bet that around thirty-seven percent of respondents would never vote for such a candidate no matter what the religious affiliation of the candidate might be. It’s a safe bet because approximately thirty-seven percent of the voters in America are liberals who would rather move to Canada than support a conservative who is against abortion and same-sex marriage.
The pollster might as well have asked that question. Americans don’t know a lot about Mormon theology but they do know a lot about the political ideology of most Mormons. Nearly every voter in America recognizes that the state of Utah, with its overwhelming Mormon majority, is the reddest state of all. Most Americans also recognize that nationally known Mormon politicians are almost universally conservative Republicans like senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett. And, if they have Mormon friends, they have found most of them to be right of center on the political spectrum, especially with respect to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Think about it. Can you name any other religious denomination that is as cohesive and predictable in its political ideology as the Mormon community seems to be? For example, there are many Catholic and Protestant politicians on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, but try and name one Mormon exception to this brand image. Probably the only prominent Mormon Democrat who comes to mind is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Reid’s maverick status in the Democratic party actually strengthens the perception that all Mormon politicians are cut from the same cloth.
This Mormon political brand is an asset of considerable worth to Gov. Romney. His two primary competitors, Senator John McCain of Arizona and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, will spend a lot of time and money either trying to paper-over their relatively liberal histories on abortion and same-sex marriage, or trying to find a way to win the Republican nomination without the support of the predominant traditional-values wing of the party. In a Republican party dominated by social conservatives, describing the plight of McCain and Giuliani as “caught between a rock and a hard place” is an understatement.
Meanwhile, Romney can spend his time and money aiming a spotlight on his significant record of accomplishment in the business world, his role in saving the 2002 Winter Olympics and an impressive record of accomplishment as the conservative Republican governor of a very liberal Democratic state.
So, though it’s true that thirty-seven percent of Americans will not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, it’s also true that those same liberal voters would never have voted for Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Membership in that exclusive club is the goal of every Republican presidential candidate. That’s why the Mormon political brand Mitt Romney inherits is a real godsend to his likely presidential campaign.