- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Protestant pastors support Mitt Romney for president by more than a 3-to-1 margin over Barack Obama, and the Republican challenger’s Mormonism didn’t affect many of their decisions, a new survey from the Southern Baptist Convention’s research team found.

Only 17 percent of pastors surveyed by LifeWay Research will vote for Mr. Obama in November. Fifty-seven percent support Mr. Romney, the first Mormon to run on a major party presidential ticket, while 22 percent of pastors remain undecided and the remaining 4 percent either named someone else or said they will not vote.

In spite of strong theological differences between Mormons and Protestants (a 2011 LifeWay survey found that 75 percent of Protestant pastors do not believe Mormons are Christians) only a handful of pastors view Mr. Romney’s religion as a political deal breaker.

“If the candidates’ faith was a driving force in pastors’ voting decisions we would expect three-fourths of pastors to be heading in a direction other than Mitt Romney,” said Scott McConnell, director of Lifeway Research, in a telephone interview. “It’s pretty clear that pastors are seeing the election as electing a head of state and not the face of religion in America.”

Evangelicals, fundamentalists and other traditional-leaning Christians widely consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not to be a Christian body — claiming it denies or unrecognizably redefines such doctrines as the Trinity, original sin and the atonement. Conservative Christians are vital to the Republican Party in the South and the rural Midwest, and a widespread refusal to vote for a Mormon on theological grounds could prove fatal to Mr. Romney’s election prospects.

Of those pastors who plan to vote for a candidate other than Mr. Romney, 82 percent said it had nothing to do with his religion and only 1 percent said Mormonism was the sole reason. Of the undecided pastors, 60 percent said their hesitation was not related to Mormonism at all.

Party affiliation is the clearest indicator of how pastors vote. Sixteen percent of pastors are Democrats; 52 percent are Republicans. Of Democratic pastors, 80 percent said they will vote for Mr. Obama, while 82 percent of Republican pastors support their party’s ticket. Twenty-three percent of pastors are independent, and of these, 47 percent said they will vote for Mr. Romney.

Pastors who identified themselves as evangelical are more likely to support Mr. Romney (66 percent) than mainline Protestants (44 percent). Just 9 percent of evangelical ministers said they will vote for Mr. Obama, as opposed to 28 percent of mainline Protestants.

These results are consistent with those of a similar LifeWay poll before the last presidential election. Fifty-five percent of pastors in 2008 said they would vote for John McCain, and 20 percent for Mr. Obama. The number of undecided voters has remained unchanged (22 percent).

LifeWay Research is a branch of LifeWay Christian Resources. The survey was conducted by phone Sept. 26-Oct. 3 and has an error margin of 3.2 percent.

Interviewers spoke to the senior pastor, minister or priest of 1,000 randomly-selected churches.