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New Research: Protestant Pastors Support Romney Despite Mormon Faith

Last fall, when it became apparent that Governor Mitt Romney would be a major player in the presidential race, some church leaders started to publicly discuss the distinct possibility of evangelicals not voting for a Mormon candidate.

Words like cult and false god were used by some of the more outspoken pastors to explain why they had to support other candidates. Meetings were held and the press began to pick up a theme– evangelicals won’t vote for Mitt Romney because their pastors don’t think they should.

One year later, however, the tune seem to have changed . . . and, based on the strong words used during the primaries, I am surprised at just how much it changed.

In short, while our research last year showed 75% of American Protestant pastors did not believe Mormons were Christian, that apparently has not stopped them from intending to vote for a Mormon candidate.

A new survey from LifeWay Research (full release here) has found that 57% of Protestant pastors plan to vote for Governor Romney compared with 17% for President Obama (and it’s higher among evangelicals). What may be surprising is that 22% percent are still undecided.

The Religion News Service already has a story on it posted at Christianity Today.

Interestingly enough, in a similar study during the 2008 election season we found that 55% of Protestant pastors planned to vote for Senator McCain compared with 20% for Senator Obama and 22% were undecided. In other words, support among pastors for President Obama has declined.

But there is even more evidence that Governor Romney’s mormonism is not influencing pastors when they vote — 82% of pastors who are NOT voting for Governor Romney say their decision was not at all related to his Mormon faith. And 60% of undecided pastors say their hesitation has not at all been influenced by Romney’s faith. (See the story for the full breakdowns.)

While religion of the candidate does not appear to be a major factor, a pastor’s political affiliation– not surprisingly– does. From the release:

The strongest indicator of voting intentions among pastors is their political party preference. Fifty-two percent of Protestant pastors identify as Republican, 16 percent as Democrat and 23 percent Independent.

Eighty-two percent of Republican pastors plan to vote for Romney, while 80 percent of Democratic pastors plan to vote for Obama. Forty-seven percent of Independent pastors plan to vote for Romney.

Also from the data:

  • 66% of self-identified evangelicals plan to vote for Romney while 9% are for Obama and 22% are undecided.
  • 44% of mainline pastors plan to vote for Romney. 28% support Obama, and 25% are undecided.
  • In the 2008, only 36% of mainline pastors planned to vote for McCain. 37% supported Obama, and 24% were undecided.
  • Voting intentions also had regional differences. Pastors in the Northeast (28%) are more likely to vote for Obama compared to those in the South (14%) and West (15%).
  • Pastors in the South (60%) are more likely to vote for Mitt Romney compared to those in the Northeast (50%).
  • In 2012, pastors age 18-44 (14%) are less likely to vote for Barack Obama than those age 55-64 (21%) and 65+ (23%).
  • 26% of pastors age 18-44 are still undecided.
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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.