I. The 2012 Election
Overall, Obama maintains a significant lead over Romney among voters in a head-to-head match up (47% vs. 38%). However, 16% of voters have not committed to either candidate. Equal numbers of Democratic and Republican voters report that they would support their party’s nominee (82% vs. 82%).
Obama holds a slight edge among Independent voters, with 42% reporting that if the election were held today, they would vote for Obama, and 37% reporting they would support Romney. One-in-five (20%) Independent voters do not voice a preference between the two candidates.
There are strong divisions in voting preferences by religious affiliation. White evangelical voters strongly support Romney over Obama (68% vs. 19%). Catholic voters overall say that they would be more likely to vote for Obama than Romney (46% to 39%), although white Catholic voters favor Romney over Obama by a significant margin (48% to 37%). Obama has an advantage over Romney among white mainline Protestant voters (50% vs. 37%) and religiously unaffiliated voters (57% vs. 22%).
When asked directly, a majority (58%) of voters say that it is not too important or not at all important for a presidential candidate to share their religious beliefs, although a significant minority (41%) believe that it is somewhat or very important. Among white evangelical voters, two-thirds (67%) say it is somewhat or very important for a presidential candidate to share their religious beliefs. In contrast, fewer than 4-in-10 white mainline Protestant voters (34%) and Catholic voters (39%) say this is important.
II. Perceptions of Religious Beliefs and Favorability: Obama and Romney
Fewer than 4-in-10 voters report that either Obama’s religious beliefs or Romney’s religious beliefs are similar to their own (38% vs. 30%).
The relationship between perceived similarity of candidates’ religious beliefs and support for the candidate is complex. Despite the fact that, when asked directly, most Americans say it is not important for presidential candidates to share their religious beliefs, for both candidates, there is a strong correlation between similarity of candidates’ religious beliefs and voting preference.
Among voters who believe Obama’s religious beliefs are different from their own, Obama trails Romney by 31 points (26% vs. 57%). Similarly, among voters who believe Romney’s religious beliefs are different from their own, Romney trails Obama by 25 points (31% vs. 56%).
There are clear signs that white evangelical voters are moving beyond any reservations they may have held earlier in the campaign about Romney’s Mormon faith. Even among white evangelical voters who say Romney’s religion is different from their own, Romney holds a commanding 45 point lead over Obama (67% vs. 22%), and 63% report having a favorable view of Romney.
III. Knowledge of the Obama and Romney’s Faith
Since October 2011, knowledge of Obama’s religious identity has remained unchanged, while knowledge of Romney’s religious identity has increased slightly. Today, fewer than 4-in-10 (36%) voters correctly identify Barack Obama as Protestant or just Christian. An additional 4% identify him as a Catholic Christian. Nearly 4-in-10 (39%) say that they are unsure what his religious beliefs are.
After nearly four years in office, 16% of voters continue to incorrectly say that Obama is Muslim. About one quarter of white evangelical voters (24%) and Republican voters (25%) incorrectly identify Obama as a Muslim. A slim majority of voters correctly identify Mitt Romney as Mormon. Another 12% identify him generally as some type of Christian (7% Protestant/Christian and 5% Catholic). Roughly one-third (35%) report that they are not sure what his religious beliefs are. More than 6-in-10 white evangelical voters (63%), white mainline Protestant voters (62%) and Republican voters (65%) correctly identify Romney’s faith as Mormon. Less than half (45%) of Catholic voters and Democratic voters (43%) currently know that Romney is Mormon.
Since October 2011, few additional voters have become aware of Romney’s faith. In October, 49% of voters reported that Romney was Mormon, compared to 51% currently. However, among Republican voters, knowledge of Romney’s faith has increased significantly, from 55% in October to 65% currently.
Romney’s favorability among these groups has increased over the same time period, suggesting that increased awareness of his religion is not hurting his favorability with supporters. Romney’s favorability among white evangelical Protestants has increased 27 points since October 2011, from 40% in October to 67% today, although only 7% currently report having a very favorable view of him. Romney’s favorability also increased 27 points among Republican voters, from 55% in October to 82% today.