One thing’s for sure: however uncomfortable white evangelical Protestants may be with Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, their reservations doesn’t seem to be stopping Republicans voters from believing that Romney is their best option against Obama in the narrowing slate of contenders for the GOP nomination. In fact, according to the new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, Romney’s most significant advantage over his competitors in the eyes of GOP voters is their confidence in his ability to defeat Barack Obama – not his qualifications for the job, the extent to which he reflects the party’s core values, or even his plan for economic growth.
Nearly half (48%) of Republican voters said that Romney has the best chance of defeating Barack Obama in the general election – twice the number who expressed similar confidence in Newt Gingrich (24%). The two candidates are virtually tied on every other attribute we measured:
- When asked which candidate best reflects the core values of the Republican Party, 26% of Republican voters named Romney and 22% named Gingrich.
- Thirty-one percent of Republican voters say that Romney has the best plan to create jobs and promote economic growth, compared to 27% who said the same of Gingrich.
- Thirty-two percent of Republican voters believe that Romney is the most qualified to be President, compared to 34% who believe that Gingrich is most qualified.
White evangelical Protestants are less convinced that Romney is the most electable candidate. Among this crucial Republican primary constituency, voters are split on whether Gingrich (38%) or Romney (40%) is the candidate most likely to defeat Obama in November.
So does this mean that if Romney becomes the Republican nominee (as seems increasingly likely), voters’ reservations about his Mormon faith will evaporate? At Rolling Stone, Rick Perlstein predicts that religious misgivings will fade if Romney ends up facing Obama.
“One thing Republicans understand,” Perlstein argues, “In American elections you have to choose from among only two people – not between the perfect and the good.”
We’ll have to wait until the primary is over to see if he’s right. Until then, who’s excited about the Nevada caucus? According to the National Journal, it’s the place where “the weather is warm and politics can scorch.”