Gallup just released a poll about Americans' opinions of Mormonism. The results are not surprising, with 46% of the total sample reporting an unfavorable opinion compared to 42% with a favorable opinion. In terms of geographical distribution of opinion, the East had the highest unfavorables (49%), followed by the West (47%), south (46%) and then Midwest (43%). The West was the only part of the country to have a higher favorable rating (50%) than unfavorable; it was also the area with the lowest number of neutral respondents, which should be expected.
A higher percentage of Republicans view Mormonism unfavorably than those religion-hating Democrats, yet another empirical example of the lack of anti-religious bias in the Democratic party that will be ignored. However, when broken down for "ideology," self-identified liberals showed a 61% unfavorable rating. However, it's unlikely that this is due to a knee-jerk reaction to religion, but to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints conservative politics regarding abortion and homosexuality.
More regular church attendance translates into a more negative view of Mormons, with 55% of weekly attendees responding negatively compared to 39% of those who never or rarely attend.
None of this, as I noted, should be particularly surprising. Better bloggers than I have been pointing out that the Religious Right does not necessarily require its political leaders to live in a particular manner so long as their rhetoric, and to a much smaller extent their actual policies, reflect support for the RR's cherished political footballs. They have even been willing to forgive a certain amount of flip-flopping in past elections, though the tapdancing Mitt Romney has been doing lately is very likely to ensure his complete defeat before the primary "season" officially begins.
But if Romney could show that he's always been a gay-hatin' abortion fighter, he would still have a tough uphill battle for the GOP nomination; indeed, his Mormonism would appear to be far less important to Democrats. This poll underscores that for the Religious Right in this country, as Atrios and others have pointed out before, what matters is actually not that one believes in something, but that one believes in the right thing.
At this moment religious conservatives have every reason to be unhappy with the GOP frontrunners. What I find surprising is how the progressive blogosphere is writing off Sam Brownback as a candidate, while continuing to believe that Mike Huckabee will be the dark horse that emerges next spring to sweep the field. Huckabee has some problems in Arkansas over gifts he received while in office, and the fact that the governorship went to a Democrat upon his leaving doesn't look good for him. But Brownback is the best option that the Religious Right has, a socially conservative Catholic, currently in office and currently with some pretty good approval ratings. He can be trusted by the Religious Right and belongs to the religious constituency they seem to be courting the most right now - after all, they certainly aren't targeting the Mormons.
Progressives need to remember that they aren't religious conservatives and therefore will always have a hard time understanding what makes them tick. I would argue that someone as non-religious as McCain or Guiliani had a much better chance of garnering their support before George W. Bush came along. Since the Religious Right continues to believe that George Bush is an Evangelical Christian like them, they've simply become spoiled, and are less likely to offer their traditional level of support to someone who doesn't closely match their personal religious beliefs as well as their political rhetoric.
Without the presidency of George W. Bush, Brownback wouldn't have a chance. But an Evangelical Christian (well, I guess) has held the White House for close to two terms now. So let me be the first, apparently, to predict Sam Brownback as the GOP nominee in 2008. Then he'll pick some less religious Republican as his running mate - perhaps even Chuck Hagel in an attempt to court the "maverick" voters McCain will lose when he suffers his nervous breakdown.cross-posted at Ezra's place