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Majority of Mormons think US ready for president of their faith

With Mitt Romney, formerly a leader in the Mormon Church, considered a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, 56 percent of Mormons in America say they believe the country is ready to elect a Mormon president, according to a Pew Research Center study released today.

“Mormons are saying we recognize there are these challenges and barriers to understanding,’’ said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the center and an author of the study. “At the same time, things may also be changing. There’s also this real opportunity as well.’’

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With two Mormons running for president - Romney and Jon Huntsman - not to mention a Broadway show about Mormons, the center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted an extensive, 125-page study on how Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, see themselves. Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 Mormons around the country on their attitudes toward politics, their communities, and how they think others view them.

Although a majority of them could envision a Mormon president this year, 32 percent said the country was not yet ready. In surveys done in the last presidential election cycle, when Romney lost the nomination, about 40 percent of all Americans said voters would not back a Mormon for president.

The new finding among Mormons illustrates they are still struggling for acceptance in some facets and regions of American life. Many Mormons “feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against, and not accepted by other Americans as part of mainstream society,’’ the authors wrote.

Politically, Mormons are strongly attached to the Republican Party. Seventy-four percent of Mormon voters identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and 66 percent consider themselves politically conservative. That compares to 45 percent of the general population who are Republicans, and 37 percent who consider themselves conservative.

Only a quarter of Mormon voters view President Obama favorably - compared with around half of the general public, though that number likely reflects their party affiliation more than religion. Mormons tend to favor conservative platforms, such as a smaller government that offers fewer services. On social issues, they tend to oppose homosexuality and abortion.

Mormons are still struggling for acceptance in American life.

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“Their political conservatism is consistent with their moral traditionalism and family values,’’ Smith said.

Mormons - both Democrat and Republican - heavily favor Romney. A whopping 86 percent of all Mormon voters view Romney favorably. In fact, Romney’s favorability ratings are higher among Mormon Democrats (62 percent) than among Republicans in the general population (56 percent).

Smith said part of that is simply a reflection of a high level of conservatism, as well as a familiarity with Romney.

Huntsman, who has a lower profile nationally, has made a less favorable impression. Only 50 percent of Mormons view him favorably, though the number is higher in Utah, where he was governor. Only 22 percent have a favorable view of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, also a Mormon.

During the campaign, there has been some speculation about whether Romney’s religion will hurt him, particularly among evangelical voters, who generally do not view Mormonism as an accepted strain of Christianity.

Romney has been reluctant to talk publicly about the details of his faith, though it is known that he does not drink alcohol or caffeine, that he did Mormon mission work in France, and that he served as a church elder in Eastern Massachusetts.

The survey of 1,019 Mormons was conducted Oct. 25-Nov. 16 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.
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