Something About Mitt

One of the limitations of polling is that respondents sometimes give answers they think will please the interviewer, rather than answers that reflect their true feelings. They do this because they believe their true feelings may be at odds with societal norms. In the public opinion research world, this is referred to as “social desirability bias.”

For instance, a survey respondent who senses that religious tolerance is a dominant norm in society is less likely to want to admit to a stranger conducting a survey interview that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism makes the voter less likely to vote for Romney.

But an interesting thing happens when pollsters approach the issue from a slightly different angle. When Pew Research asked respondents to provide one word that comes to mind when they hear a candidate’s name, we get a glimpse of what is top-of-mind with voters.

You might expect that terms dominant in Romney-related media coverage or ads might rise to top-of-mind status with voters, terms like “Romneycare,” “job creator,” “flip-flopper,” “front-runner,” “slick,” and “businessman.” After all, those topics and descriptors are dominant Romney-related topics in the campaign.

But they aren’t what sticks the most for the most for voters. The number one word that popped into voters’ minds, among both the general public and Republicans, is…


Keep in mind, I can’t recall a single ad airing about Romney’s religion. The subject has come up only fleetingly in debates, with Romney’s opponents largely shrugging off the issue. Yet “Mormon,” above all else, is what sticks in voters’ minds, while “Catholic” is not even on the public’s radar when it comes to Newt Gingrich.

This doesn’t tell us that the Mormonism is viewed as a negative by all or even most voters. But the fact that a) “Mormon” is voters’ dominant summation of Romney and b) Romney can’t seem to get get any traction with GOP primary and caucus voters leads me to believe that Mormonism is a bigger factor in this race than many want to admit.

– Loveland

7 thoughts on “Something About Mitt

  1. PM says:

    If the pollsters really wanted to get an answer to the question you pose, the best way would be to ask a question like this: “Do you think that your neighbor will be less likely to vote for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon?”

    Apparently, people are quite willing to project their biases on a hypothetical (but unnamed) person that they know.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    Also interesting that “intelligent/smart/knowledgable” is number one summation of Newt Gingrich. A lot of my liberal friends assume that conservatives like Newt because they see him as a tough attack dog to dismantle the President, but it looks more like conservatives see him as an intellectual giant who can out-argue the President.

  3. Erik says:

    Rephrase that too, “leads me to fantasize Mormonism will be a big enough factor to keep Romney from defeating Obama.”

    You fellas need to listen to your gut here. When something cant go on, it wont. Romney is going to win handily next November.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      You may be correct, Erik. I’m plenty worried about Obama losing to Romney. And if “black,” “Muslim” or “African” came up as the first word associated with Obama, I’d be even more worried, about a dangerous, invisible electoral undercurrent. Swag aside for a moment, does this finding about “Mormon” sticking in voters’ minds concern you at all?

      1. Erik says:

        You are prescient to use those analogies. I had half a mind to make them myself. I do think those are comparable. Insofar as it didn’t matter for Obama, it does not matter for Romney.

        No, it does not concern me. I’m…whatever… a malcontent conservative. My wife is a Democrat. I circulate among “independents”. That is to say, the politically apathetic. They care no more that Romney is a Mormon than they cared Obama was black.
        I don’t think people are as religiously literate as they used to be. I suspect the millennials think Mormons are just some small but conventional branch of Protestant Christiandom. For liberals, that’s the downside to secularizing the nation.

        The Democrats will vote for Obama.

        The Republicans will vote for Romney.

        The independents will vote for Romney… not because they conservatives fervor or agree with their bombast, but because something that can’t go on won’t go on. Obama-ism is a dead letter. To think a 2nd Obama term is possible is like thinking a 2nd GHW Bush term was possible.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        In Sept. 2008, Obama’s top “one word” descriptors were: 1) inexperienced, 2) change, 3) intelligent, 4) young, 5) charismatic, 6) new, 7) energetic, 8) hopeful, 9) liberal, 10) honest.

        In February. 2009: 1) intelligent, 2) change, 3) honest, 4) confident, 5) inexperienced, 6) hopeful, 7) smart, 8) socialist, 9) good, 10) charismatic.

        In Jan 2010: 1) intelligent, 2) inexperienced, 3) trying, 4) good, 5) socialist, 6) honest, 7) unqualified, 8) arrogant, 9) fair, 10) incompetent.

        Haven’t seen a 2011 update.

        Nothing about Obama’s race, religion or country of origin has ever made the list, which is one of the reasons why I find it extraordinary that “Mormon” tops Romney’s list.

  4. PM says:


    what about Ron Paul? looks like he is leading in Iowa right now, and apparently barely ahead in New Hampshire as well.

    And also, Gingrich has stabilised in South Carolina, and is having a very slight uptick in Iowa–it may be too early to count him out!

    Bottom line, i think that Obama is going to get re-elected. I find it hard to think of republicans voting for some french speaking Wall Street gazillionaire named Willard who wants to socialize our health care system, is in favor of gay marriage and abortion rights, and hails from Taxachussetts!

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