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President Eisenhower once said that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”* Apparently many Americans agree.

A new poll reveals that a majority (56%) of the public say it is very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs—regardless of whether those beliefs are the same as their own.

That last part should come as welcome news to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama because the public has no idea what religion those men belong too:

Only 4-in-10 Americans correctly identify Mitt Romney as Mormon. One-in-ten say he is Protestant or Catholic. Nearly half (46%) say they do not know what Romney’s religion is.

  • Television news preferences are highly correlated with knowledge of Romney’s religious affiliation. Americans who say they most trust Fox News (54%) and who most trust public television (63%) correctly say that Romney is Mormon. Only 34% of those who most trust broadcast news and only 26% of those who must trust CNN correctly identify Romney as Mormon.

  • Currently, Republicans (50%) and those who identify with the Tea Party (50%) are significantly more likely than the general public (40%) to know Romney is Mormon. Only 44% of white evangelicals know Romney is Mormon.

  • More than 7-in-10 Americans say that Mormons have somewhat (26%) or very (46%) different religious beliefs than their own, including 81% of white evangelicals.

  • Among the nearly half (46%) of Americans who say Mormons have very different religious beliefs than their own, Obama leads Romney 49% to 28%.

Consistent with previous surveys, about 1-in-5 (18%) Americans continue to say wrongly that President Obama is a Muslim. Thirty-eight percent correctly say he is Christian (including 4% who say he is Catholic), and 4-in-10 say they do not know what his religious beliefs are.

On its own I don’t think this finding is all that significant. But I believe it may be a proxy for the cluelessness of American voters.

Since 2007 the media has run numerous stories indirectly noting Romney’s faith (mostly of the “Will Evangelicals Vote for a Mormon?” variety). Likewise, the Jeremiah Wright controversy was a prominent topic during the last campaign. Additionally, both men gave important speeches during the last election season that touched on their beliefs. For the public to still be ignorant about their faith is a sign that Americans really aren’t paying that much attention to what these men—or any of the other candidates—actually believe.

Still, I don’t think 1-in-5 people are so out of touch that they really believe Obama is a Muslim. That myth has been debunked so many times that it’s hard to imagine anyone could be unaware of the truth. The people who are giving that answer are just messing with the pollsters, right?

Note: The poll was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, the same group that came up with that fishy survey claiming that many American Catholics are breaking with Rome over same-sex relationships, so I’m not sure how much to trust the results.

*I had always thought the quote was apocryphal, but it’s listed on the Eisenhower Presidential Library website as being authentic.

(Via: The Atlantic Wire )

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