Analysis: Mormon Faith Hurt Romney in 2012, but Didn’t Cost Him the Election

There’s been much hand wringing about how Mitt Romney’s LDS faith played during the 2012 election. One analysis suggests it did cost him votes on both sides of the aisle, but not enough to swing the election.

Centre college political science professor Benjamin Knoll looked at the 2012 American National Election Study to see how voters felt about a number of factors, including the LDS faith. Those results found that, according to Knoll:

Despite the aggressive missionary program and public relations campaign on the part of the Mormon church, most Americans don’t know any Mormons, perceive very little in common with them, and feel, at best, ambivalently toward them. Apparently, the perceived “other-ness” of Mormonism is alive and well in the American public.

But, did that end up costing Romney votes? Knoll analyzed the results and found:

  • Republicans who do not consider Mormons to be Christian were 5% less likely to vote for Romney.
  • Democrats who think Mormons are not Christians were 2.5% less likely to vote for Romney.

His results show, for the most part, Romney’s LDS faith did not hurt him at the ballot box, unless those voters did not consider Mormons to be Christian. His estimate suggests that was about 1 out of every 20 Republicans who simply decided to stay home because of that.

Was this enough to cost Romney the election? An extremely rough “back of the envelope” estimation: Romney received about 61 million votes total. Increasing his vote total by 5 percent would have given him about 64 million votes. Given that Barack Obama received 66 million votes, Romney still would have lost the popular vote by 2 million votes which translates into roughly a 49 percent to 51 percent loss, a difference of about 2 percent from his actual result of 47 percent of the vote. (It should be noted that this is a tentative and generous estimate that makes a number of overly-simplistic assumptions. In reality, the overall effect was very likely smaller.)