An Australian researcher in the United States Study Centre in Sydney, David Smith, has released a report, "The Mormon Dilemma: Causes and Consequences of Anti-Mormonism in the 2012 Elections." His lengthy and careful study includes pages and pages of data, analysis, etc. I won't bore you with those. The crux of his findings is this:
Increasingly, liberals and religious non-traditionalists see Mormons as a part of the orthodox coalition with evangelicals and conservative Catholics. They believe Mormon politicians harbor authoritarian social agendas and an irrational hostility to science and reason. Mormons are in a uniquely awkward position, regarded by secular liberals as hardcore religious conservatives but seen as possible heretics by other religious conservatives. Romney’s Mormonism could have the effect of arousing the anger of liberal Democrats while suppressing the enthusiasm of conservative Republicans.How people view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) most directly correlates to how they view Romney. The effect is larger than for any other correlation such as political affliation.
Taken together, this evidence suggests that overall perceptions of Mormons are very important to perceptions of Romney. ... However, it is difficult to isolate any single source of negative (or positive) perceptions of Mormons that on its own has a large effect on how people see Romney. This might mean that negative perceptions of Mormons may be difficult for any Mormon politician (or for the church itself) to change, because opinions about Mormons are drawn from many different sources, many of which are not easily accessible to opinion leaders.Put another way, people who know Mormons personally or have heard good things about them have good opinions of them. People who don't know any Mormons personally and get their information from anti-Mormon sources don't much like Mormons and are less likely to view Romney favorably, and are less likely to vote for him. Simple as that.
Given that the effect that Romney's religion has for some conservative voters - depressing voter turnout by about 10% in swing states according to the study - this is significant. This will likely be a close election and a depressed turnout isn't what the GOP is after.
Now, this data was gathered at the end of February into early March. Romney had not yet secured the nomination. Obama hadn't yet 'come out.' Romney had not yet reassured conservatives of his opposition to gay marriage. Wisconsin hadn't yet voted for Walker and his reforms. Obama had not said the private sector is "doing fine" nor had Romney yet appeared at Solyndra. Romney's favorability is up in many polls across the country compared to those in March. Were this study to be repeated right now I doubt that we'd see exactly the same results. Then again, who is to say that it the prevailing sentiments about Romney might not change again for better or worse before the general election?
So will Romney's religion matter come November? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, information about the Mormons - for and against - is flooding the internet. A different study found that the more people learn about Mormonism the more comfortable they are voting for a Mormon. Rather than coming from the GOP or Romney, however, expect to see more and more regular Mormons stepping forward to show the nation who they are and defend their religion against faulty reports. We're fighting the tide of misinformation and prejudice.Visit Deseret News on just about any day and you'll see what I mean.