A newly published study in the journal Political Behavior describes a stark reality of voter beliefs and behavior that squarely places Mitt Romney’s Mormonism as a formidable obstacle in his 2012 bid for the White House.
“It’s not that Romney is a religious man. It’s not that he’s a church leader. It’s not that he is open with his faith,” says Dr. John Green, co-author of the study and director of The Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron. “It is that his Mormon faith, in particular, makes many people uneasy. And that unease has political consequences.” Green co-authored the article, published in Springer Science+Business Media’s journal, Political Behavior, with David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame and Quin Monson of Brigham Young University.
“This paper asks why Romney was unable to break the stained glass ceiling in 2008,” the authors write. An important factor “is the social insularity of Mormons — a pattern reminiscent of Catholics of previous generations. This lack of social contact appears to reduce the acceptance of Mormons in the broader population.” In fact, even among Americans who claim to have some moderate exposure to Mormons, the impact of negative commentary is not offset by positive counterarguments.
“Our findings suggest that the type of campaign messaging that can sway voters away from supporting Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon will be difficult to counter,” says Green.
If there is sustained contact by a minority group across religious boundaries (the authors call that “interreligious bridging”), the result is more religious tolerance in the political sphere. But a religious “out-group” like Mormonism has not yet created those social bridges.
The authors believe the study findings can apply to political candidates from other small and distinctive communities, like Muslims or Sikhs.
They do, however, express optimism about the longer-term political prospects for members of socially-isolated minorities: “Today, both Catholics and Jews are viewed very positively, even though historically they have suffered persecution.”
The authors note that Catholics are now fully integrated into society today, and that Jews, who are similar to Mormons in population size in America, have “among the highest levels of inter-religious bridging.” Catholic and Jewish candidates have shattered the stained glass ceiling.
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