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A candidate's religion may hurt more than help

September 8, 2007 |  3:00 am

A nationwide poll released this week by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press offers new fodder for discussion on the impact of religion on politics.

Andrew Kohut, Pew’s director, wrote: “So far, religion is not proving to be a clear-cut positive in the 2008 presidential campaign. The candidates viewed by voters as the least religious among the leading contenders are the current front-runners for the Democratic and Republican nominations--Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, respectively."

“On the other hand," Kohut said, "the candidate seen as far and away the most religious--Mitt Romney--is handicapped by this perception because of voter concerns about Mormonism.”

The poll found that a quarter of Americans--Democratic, independent and Republican alike--said they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is Mormon.

Among other findings:

* Social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, are of much less interest to the average voter than the war in Iraq.

* Most Americans say that it is important for a president to have strong religious views. But a candidate need not be seen as very religious to be broadly acceptable to voters.

* Giuliani's image has been largely unaffected by his pro-choice stance on abortion, perhaps because public awareness of his position remains relatively small. Overall, only 22% of the public--and, more significantly, just 31% of Republicans--know that Giuliani favors legal abortion.

The survey was conducted Aug. 1-18 among 3,002 adults. For results based on the total sample, the error margin is plus or minus 2 percentage points; for subsets, it's 3 points. You can peruse the entire poll here.

-- Don Frederick