With Mitt Romney's Mormon faith often under the microscope, a new survey to be released Thursday finds that most Mormons feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against and not accepted by Americans as part of mainstream society.
In a survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, a majority of Mormons cite misperceptions about their faith, discrimination and lack of acceptance as the biggest challenges facing them. Two-thirds, or 68 percent, feel they are not viewed as mainstream by society, while six in 10 say that Americans in general are uninformed about the Mormon faith. Nearly half of those polled, about 46 percent, say there is "a lot" of discrimination against their faith, while 54 percent feel that Mormons' portrayal in television and movies hurts their image.
Evangelical Christians particularly are singled out by Mormons as the group that is unfriendly toward them. In a previous Pew poll, roughly half of evangelical Christians said Mormonism is not a Christian religion, higher than the national average of 32 percent who feel that way.
At the same time, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints express optimism about the future, with 63 percent saying that acceptance of their faith is on the rise.
Amid questions about his faith, one point that Romney has repeatedly made on the campaign trail is that he is a Christian, a sentiment that is echoed in the survey. An overwhelming 97 percent of Mormons describe themselves as Christians.
But the survey finds that a number of Mormon tenets are distinct from other Christian traditions. More than 90 percent of Mormons surveyed said they believe that God and Jesus Christ are separate physical beings, that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, that the president of their church is a prophet of God, and that families can be bound together eternally in Mormon temple ceremonies.
The survey found that the group is highly religious compared with the general public. Of those surveyed, 82 percent say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of the general public.
Politically, Mormons are more conservative compared with the general public, the survey finds. Seventy-four percent of Mormons surveyed say they lean toward the Republican party, and 66 percent describe themselves as conservatives, much higher than the national average of 37 percent. That political ideology is reflected in their views of politicians - 86 percent view Romney favorably and 50 percent hold a positive view of another Mormon candidate, Jon Huntsman. But considerably less, only 22 percent, are supportive of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is also a Mormon.
The survey is the first of its kind published by a non-Mormon group.