The news service of the seminary over which Al Mohler presides as President has published a story recounting the rather politically useless "debate" between Mohler and Orson Scott Card on whether Mormons are Christians. I have not followed the debate closely because for purposes of a presidential election, I simply do not believe the question really matters. This story serves to confirm my suspicions. It is seminary talk, not political talk.
And yet, as we have chronicled on this blog, that debate has received far more MSM attention than any seminary debate I know of for a very long time, even the ones surrounding The Da Vinci Code.
This makes me wonder if the Evangelical move to Fred is as significant as the press would have us believe. I know too many Evangelicals throwing behind Fred, to deny that there is any movement, but its size and significance is something I am beginning to wonder about.
The press has wanted, or at least believed there was going to be, a "religious showdown" of some sort at least since Amy Sullivan's Washington Monthly piece in September of '05. Until this "debate" and the Thompson wave, they had nothing but speculation. I cannot help but wonder if they are not over-reporting what is happening for the sake of the story line that have thought should happen so much that they will make it real even if it is not.
Only time will tell, but there is going to have to be some substance to the whole Thompson thing pretty soon or press is going to make this the story whether true or not, and once that happens, the Evangelical voice in politics is going to suffer, and suffer greatly.
Lowell adds: I agree that no one has any idea just how statistically significant the Evangelical move to Thompson is. Whether it is significant or not, There are two things that assure that move continued press attention: First, as John says, the news media loves the idea of Evangelicals disdaining Romney because of his Mormon faith; and second, there are plenty of relatively visible Evangelicals who are very up front about the real reason they prefer Thompson over Romney: Fred's a Protestant. Some of that group have a long and public track record of tweaking Romney over his faith, and now– big surprise– they've joined Blogs for Fred. I call these folks the "Anybody But A Mormon" crowd. Still, as John has said before, those Evangelicals are the "hard core near-fundamentalist types." It remains to be seen how much influence they will have on mainstream Evangelicals.
Polls and Confusion
The latest poll featured in Time magazine's July 23 issue found that if a presidential candidate was Catholic, Jewish or Mormon, it wouldn't affect the support of 66 percent, 68 percent and 56 percent of adult Americans, respectively.
It is going to be very interesting to see how that result is reported. It says that a majority of Americans do not think Romney's faith matters, but because that majority is ten points less than other minority faiths, I'm betting the story line will be portrayed quite differently.
The story also points out how very confusing polling can be:
At the same time, Americans were more likely to say a Catholic of Jewish candidate would make them more supportive than less supportive. When it came to a Mormon candidate, however, Americans were more likely to say they would be less supportive (30 percent) than more supportive (11 percent).
A very different result depending on how and what question is asked, even if you are exploring the same territory. It is also quite likely that this result will be reported far more than the one above.
Historical Note from Lowell: One of our readers notes that today is July 24, celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah. It's the date when Brigham Young and the first group of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. The first wave of emigrants amounted to about 13,000 people– almost the entire population of Nauvoo, Illinois at that time. The total westward migration, prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, rose to 70,000 people.
Something tells me Mitt Romney won't be mentioning this holiday in any speeches today. It's both funny and sad that he can't afford to do so. That a man who is running for president of the United States needs to be cautious about calling attention to his religious faith, in 2007, should give us all pause for reflection.