Many political pundits seemed to hail the end of prejudice when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, a sweeping contrast with Jim Crow and other discriminatory laws and informal terror that had blocked full-scale political participation for African Americans since slaves gained citizenship in the 1860s. But between 20 and 30 percent of American voters admit to being unwilling to support an otherwise qualified Mormon for the presidency:
With one Mormon leading the pack for the Republican presidential nomination and another scheduled to announce his candidacy on Tuesday, a significant bloc of American voters continues to oppose followers of that religion, according to a Gallup poll released Monday. About one in five Republicans, or 22%, said they would not vote for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name of the Mormon church. About the same proportion of independents said they would oppose a Mormon while a larger number of Democrats, about 27%, said they were opposed, according to the poll.
Like racism, religious prejudice is broadly unacceptable in the United States; John F. Kennedy arguably pigeonholed it as such in a famous speech to Protestant ministers in Texas in 1960 asserting his independence from the Pope, a speach Mitt Romney tried and failed to imitate in 2007. But all this means is that even more voters may be unwilling to back a Mormon for the White House but will not say so to a pollster. Should Romney and Jon Huntsman–and the Republican establishment–be concerned?
They can take comfort that a majority is at least open to the prospect, but that this group of non-haters can be coalesced around an inevitably conservative Republican nominee next fall is a big leap of faith. Then again, Mitt Romney’s general election numbers are far-and-away the strongest of any Republican in the race right now; he even surpassed the president in a recent Washington Post poll. Fears about the economy may trump all, even bigotry, as they arguably did for Obama with skeptical white working class voters last time around. [Los Angeles Times]