For months, your servants here in the mainstream media have been trying to figure out whether Mitt Romney’s Mormonism would seriously hurt him among white evangelicals. But now that question seems downright odd, as data out this week show Romney with a nearly 50-point advantage over Obama among this group.
The dynamic between evangelicals and Romney will be on display Saturday at Liberty University, a hub of conservative evangelicalism, where Romney will deliver the commencement speech.
Some students at the Lynchburg university founded by Jerry Falwell protested, noting that school textbooks and Southern Baptist doctrine say explicitly that Mormonism contradicts Christian theology.
And there’s no doubt that many politically conservative evangelicals leaned toward other candidates during the primary season. Experts say this is because Romney has shifted his positions over his career on abortion and the rights of same-sex couples, as well as a core discomfort with a faith that teaches that Jesus once appeared in America and that Mormonism is true Christianity.
But the numbers are explicit. The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey released Thursday shows Romney over Obama, 68 percent to 19 percent, among white evangelical Protestants. Among the nearly half who say Romney’s religious beliefs are different from their own, he still holds a 3-to-1 lead over the president.
Despite Obama’s attempts to make inroads among white evangelicals, the data so far look like things haven’t changed much since 2008. That year John McCain won this group by 47 points.
Democrats tried Friday to change the narrative, hosting a news conference with a Democratic student leader from the Lynchburg university.
Yet longtime Liberty-watchers say the issue is more political than religious. Last year’s commencement was also delivered by a Mormon — talk show host Glenn Beck. And the year before the commencement speech was given by Jewish actor and writer Ben Stein.
“In general, students expect a commitment to conservative politics despite the theology of its spokespersons,” said Jonathan Merritt, a Liberty graduate whose father once headed the Southern Baptist Convention.