America’s “Mormon moment” is over, and public opinion appears to be little changed. Eight-in-ten Americans (82%) say they learned little or nothing about the Mormon religion during the presidential campaign, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Most Americans still are unable to correctly answer basic questions about the history and sacred texts of the Mormon Church. And three-in-ten Americans continue to consider the Mormon religion a non-Christian faith, though there appears to be some warming of attitudes toward Mormonism, especially among religious groups that voted heavily for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
These are some of the findings from a new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Dec. 5-9, 2012, among 1,503 adults.
During 2012, the public profile of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church) reached new heights: Romney became the first Mormon nominated for president by a major party, “The Book of Mormon” was a hit musical on Broadway, Time magazine published a story on the “Mormon moment,” and the LDS Church ran a nationwide advertising campaign to try to improve perceptions of Mormons.
Romney was the subject of about twice as much religion-related media coverage as Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential campaign, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum. During the course of the campaign, the portion of U.S. adults who are aware that Romney is a Mormon rose steadily from 39% in November 2011 to 65% after the election.
But the vast majority of U.S. adults say they learned either “not very much” (32%) or “nothing at all” (50%) about the Mormon religion during the presidential campaign, according to the new Pew Research Center poll. Indeed, the poll finds that less than one-third of American adults (29%) are able to correctly answer two basic, factual questions about the history and sacred texts of the LDS Church, the same percentage that answered both of those questions correctly in 2010.
Public attitudes toward Mormonism, however, appear to be somewhat more positive on two of three indicators on the survey. When asked for one-word impressions of the Mormon religion, more Americans mention positive terms such as “good people,” “dedicated” and “honest” than did so one year ago (24% today vs. 18% in 2011). Impressions of Mormonism using positive descriptors is up among several religious groups, including white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants and white Catholics – all groups that favored Romney in the election.1
In addition, the (non-Mormon) public is a bit less likely to see the Mormon religion as “very different” from their own beliefs; 61% characterize Mormonism as “very different” from their own religion, down 4 points from November 2011. A quarter of adults (25%) now say the Mormon faith has “a lot in common” with their own religion, compared with 22% in 2011. White mainline Protestants (a group that voted 54%-44% for Romney over Obama) are especially likely to have warmed up to Mormonism in the past year: roughly four-in-ten (42%) now see the Mormon religion and their own beliefs as having a lot in common, up 14 points from 28% in November 2011.
Views on whether Mormonism is a Christian faith remain unchanged, however. About half of Americans (53%) continue to say the Mormon religion is a Christian faith, while about half either say it is not a Christian faith (30%) or do not give an opinion (17%). There has been little or no change in views on this question among white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, white Catholics or other religious groups.
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