Mitt’s Speech: A Bump Today In Return For A Permanent Dip Tomorrow?

Mitt’s speech yesterday got very good reviews on talk radio and around the right side of the blogosphere. Personally, I liked the speech and expect Mitt to get a bump from it, although I don’t think it will help him much long term.

That being said, John Podhoretz wrote a fascinating post arguing that Mitt may have really harmed himself with the speech, despite the initial positive reaction. Here’s an excerpt,

“Romney has always had an uphill battle in this election, although you’re not supposed to say it, as it will occasion someone else delivering you a long speech about religious tolerance. As far as minority religions go, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the minority-est. There are, by at least one count, …as many Jews in the United States. The number of Americans who openly profess to be Christian is around 74 percent; the number of those raised Christian is 84 percent. Americans are without a doubt the most tolerant people on earth, but religion is very important to them, and someone whose fellow believers number 1/55th of the population of the United States is someone who is going to have trouble closing the deal with voters.

For those who don’t know Romney is a Mormon, well, they sure will now. For the next two or three days, it’s all anybody will know about him. Chances are it is the word that people will most associate with him from here on out. I don’t think that’s a good direction for a campaign that finds itself in the fight of its life in Iowa against the most explicitly Christian candidate in the field.”

There’s a relatively new survey out from Vanderbilt University that would seem to back up what Podhoretz is saying,

Bias against Mormons is significantly more intense among the public than bias against either African Americans or women, according to a new scientific poll by three professors from Vanderbilt and Claremont Graduate universities.

…A national representative sample of 1,200 people participated along with an additional over-sample of another 600 “born-again” Southerners. The over-sample was designed to measure the concerns that people have expressed about Romney’s religion among the evangelical base of the Republican Party.

…* Bias against Mormons is significantly more intense among the public compared to bias against women and blacks. The bias against Mormons is even more pronounced among conservative Evangelicals. Their bias against Mormons rivals their bias against atheists.

* Only about half the nation claims to even know a Mormon or to know that Romney is Mormon.

* The extent of the bias against Romney is moderated if the individual already knows that he is Mormon. That information seems to demystify the Mormon religion, making people more tolerant of the religion. Those who do not know Romney is Mormon exhibit much greater bias upon learning of his religion.

* When participants in the survey are provided information that stereotypes Mormons, such as ‘Mormons are part of a non-Christian cult” or “Mormons are polygamists,” they react negatively to Romney’s candidacy.

* Participants react favorably to messages that dispel the negative stereotypes about Mormons. Examples would be “about a hundred years ago the Mormon Church banned polygamy,” or “the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints stresses traditional family values.” However, simple appeals for religious tolerance do not win over support for Romney from the respondents.

So, according to the study, Evangelicals (who are an extremely large and important group of primary voters) dislike Mormons almost as much as atheists, but half the country, including presumably, half the Evangelicals didn’t know Romney was a Mormon.

In other words, in effect, what Romney may have just done with the speech is run an enormous negative ad against himself that could, after the bump he gets from the positive speech coverage, cause him to dip below his previous numbers.

Is that a plausible theory? Yes, I think it just may be.

PS: On a related note, I will certainly support Mitt if he’s the nominee and if, let’s say, it were to come down to him and Rudy, I’ll even support him in the primary.

However, I don’t think it’s illegitimate or constitutes a “religious test” for primary voters to take his religious beliefs into consideration when they vote, especially given that Romney has been explicitly trying to appeal to Christian conservatives on religious grounds.

How can you nod along with items like this in a political speech (Incidentally, I liked this part, although some people might think it gets a bit too religious for a speech of this sort)…

“Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world. There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.”

…and then turn around and try to say that it’s improper for people to take Romney’s faith into consideration when they decide whether to support him as a candidate? You really can’t have it both ways: Romney can’t try to say, “Evangelical Christians, vote for me because we believe the same things about Jesus Christ” and then say, “But, don’t consider whether your beliefs clash with mine before you enter the voting booth.” When you invite voters to make a decision about you politically based on your religious beliefs, you have to take the bad with the good.

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