A majority of Mormons believe that Americans are ready to elect a Mormon president, according to a new poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.
The poll is significant because it’s believed to be the first survey of its kind by a non-Mormon organization. It was conducted late last year and covered a spectrum of cultural and religious issues, including politics.
The poll found that Mormons don’t view the two Mormon GOP presidential candidates in the same light. Mitt Romney enjoys a 86 percent approval rating from Mormons, while Jon Huntsman is seen positively by only half of registered Mormon voters.
No explanation was offered for the difference. Romney is a former governor of Massachusetts, while Huntsman served as governor of Utah. Salt Lake City is headquarters of the Mormon religion, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Other key political findings:
• Mormons view Hillary Clinton more favorably than President Obama, but Sarah Palin is met with higher approval than than either of them.
• Three-in-four registered Mormon voters either think of themselves as Republicans or lean that way. In contrast, the general public identifies as 45 percent Republican, 48 percent Democrat.
• An estimated 36 percent of Mormons agree with Tea Party ideology.
• Mormon views on immigration are more moderate than Romney’s hardline stances. Researchers say that’s because Mormon missionaries who serve overseas develop empathy for the immigrant experience.
So while Mormons favor the GOP, they’re still fighting for acceptance among Republicans and American society at large. Two-thirds of Mormons say they’re not viewed by Americans as being part of the mainstream.
Even so, they feel acceptance is on the rise, which accounts for their optimism that a Mormon president is electable.
Still, nearly half of Mormons feel discriminated against and believe the prejudice they face is far worse than that of blacks. Mormons only see Muslims and gays as facing harsher discrimination.
Half of Mormons said evangelical Christians are chilly to them which, if true, doesn’t bode well for Romney in the upcoming South Carolina primary. The Palmetto state is a Southern Baptist stronghold, and many of that denomination’s pastors denounce Mormonism as a cult.
And that brings us to religion. Eight-in-ten Mormons believe their religion’s founder, Joseph Smith, actually saw “God the Father” and Jesus, whom they consider “separate, physical beings.” They also believe Jesus appeared in America, as detailed in the Book of Mormon, and that Mormon families “can be bound together eternally” in temple ceremonies.
None of that fits with the teachings of mainstream Christianity. Even so, 97 percent of Mormons identify as Christians, while only a little over half of Americans (51 percent) concur.
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Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.