Americans still aren't confident about which particular faith Mitt Romney and Barack Obama practice. Nearly half (46 percent) of the public can't identify Mitt as a Mormon, and only 38 percent correctly said the president is a Christian. Those stats headline the first new Public Religion Research Institute/RNS Religion News Survey poll of the 2012 election cycle.
Here's what we found most interesting about the poll. Below is a PRRI/RNS chart that places a few of the leading GOP presidential contenders (Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann) on a scale alongside Presidents Obama and Bush to scale the religious similarity of the candidates with the beliefs of those who were surveyed. A question posed to participants was this: "Do you think that [Insert Name] has religious beliefs that are very similar, somewhat similar, somewhat different, or very different than your own religious beliefs?" Here's the methodology (only the religious similarities/differences chart is shown below):
In order to compare Obama with current Republican candidates vying for the GOP nomination, who are much less familiar to the general public, we created a scale to measure perceptions of similarities on both religious beliefs and political views. We computed an average score that runs from +2 (very similar religious beliefs or political views) to -2 (very different religious beliefs or political views). Respondents who are not familiar with the political figure or their religious beliefs or political views receive a score of 0.
As the chart shows, the randomized polling sample of Americans feel relatively more akin to George W. Bush when it comes to religion:
Bush scores 0.00 indicating that about half of those who could rate him view him similarly and equal number view him differently. Among everyone else, on balance more people say their religious beliefs are different than say they are similar to their own (Romney -0.43, Obama -0.40, and Bachmann -0.23).
Surprisingly, at least to us, even though the president has been plagued by the incorrect belief that he's a Muslim (18 percent still hold this belief according to the PRRI/RNS poll), it's Mitt Romney who is identified as the biggest outlier.