The EFM Feature

I am becoming increasingly convinced that most political polling is worthless. Take the L.A. Times poll that Charles mentions below. Of course the poll is of adults, not registered voters. Of course the poll asks its questions about religion in a vacuum, without reference to people or positions. In other words, it seems designed to do anything but simulate the actual experience of choosing a candidate in an election.
Even worse, the poll leaves gaping holes in the data. Were the 37% who wouldn’t support a Mormon concentrated in the Democratic or Republican ranks? The answer to this question makes quite a bit of difference. If the majority of the 37% were Democrats, the poll means virtually nothing for Governor Romney. Mormons are generally politically conservative (arguably more reliably conservative than even self-described evangelicals), and their conservatism (especially their social conservatism) is often despised by the left. With one political party growing increasingly intolerant of conservative religious expression, it is hardly surprising to see large numbers of voters saying they would “never” support a person with conservative religious beliefs.
Second, in the real world religion is never the only relevant fact about a candidate (except for a tiny minority of voters). When voters actually see real human beings debate the issues, they choose between people with distinct personalities and distinct positions. A more accurate poll question would be, “If you found a candidate that agreed with you on the issues and you believed would be an effective leader, would you vote against him simply because he was Mormon?” The 37% number would plummet dramatically.
Third, this result simply does not match the reality that I’ve experienced. In the run-up to the Memphis straw poll, my wife and I had conversations with literally hundreds of Southern evangelicals (our goal was and has been to build an evangelical grassroots movement for the Governor), and of those hundreds only one person told us she could not support a Mormon. But of course we did not approach anyone by saying, “Do you want to vote for a Mormon in Memphis?” Instead, we introduced them to the person–his political and moral values, his record of success, and his obvious and demonstrated ability to inspire and lead. The response was enthusiastic.
In the one significant test of candidates this year, Governor Romney was the clear winner (coming in second only to the home state senator), and he won on the strength of evangelical support. I’ll take that real-world result over the L.A. Times’ polling data any day.
Finally, even if the poll is showing something real (and I do not grant that it is), we’ll just have to be content with a mere 63% majority.

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