Political Behavior

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 277–299 | Cite as

The Stained Glass Ceiling: Social Contact and Mitt Romney’s “Religion Problem”

  • David E. CampbellEmail author
  • John C. Green
  • J. Quin Monson
Original Paper


Why did Mitt Romney face antagonism toward his Mormon religion in the 2008 election? Using experiments conducted in the real time of the campaign, we test voters’ reactions to information about Romney’s religious background. We find that voters were concerned specifically with Romney’s religious affiliation, not simply with the fact that he is religious. Furthermore, concern over Romney’s Mormonism dwarfed concerns about the religious backgrounds of Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee. We find evidence for a curvilinear hypothesis linking social contact with Mormons and reaction to information about Romney’s Mormonism. Voters who have no personal exposure to Mormons are most likely to be persuaded by both negative and positive information about the Mormon faith, while voters who have sustained personal contact with Mormons are the least likely to be persuaded either way. Voters with moderate contact, however, react strongly to negative information about the religion but are not persuaded by countervailing positive information.


Religion and politics Voter behavior Presidential elections Tolerance Social contact 


  1. Allport, G. W. (1979). The nature of prejudice: 25th anniversary edition. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  2. Barker, D. C. (2005). Values, frames, and persuasion in presidential nomination campaigns. Political Behavior, 27, 375–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bellah, R. N. (1967). Civil religion in America. Daedalus, 96, 1–21.Google Scholar
  4. Benson, B. V., Merolla, J. L., & Geer, J. G. (2011). Two steps forward, one step back? Bias in the 2008 presidential election. Electoral Studies, 30, 607–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berinsky, A. J., & Mendelberg, T. (2005). The indirect effect of discredited stereotypes in judgments of Jewish leaders. American Journal of Political Science, 49, 845–864.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braman, E., & Sinno, A. H. (2009). An experimental investigation of causal attributes for the political behavior of Muslim candidates: Can a Muslim represent you? Politics and Religion, 2, 247–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brewer, M. B., & Brown, R. J. (1998). Intergroup relations. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychologyi (4th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  8. Campbell, D. E. (Ed.). (2007). A matter of faith: Religion in the 2004 presidential election. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  9. Campbell, D. E., & Monson, J. Q. (2007). Dry kindling: A political profile of American Mormons. In J. Matthew Wilson (Ed.), From pews to polling places: Faith and politics in the American religious mosaic. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Chafets, Z. (2007). The Huckabee factor. New York Times Magazine, December 27.Google Scholar
  11. Citrin, J., Green, D. P., & Sears, D. O. (1990). White reactions to black candidates: When does race matter? Public Opinion Quarterly, 54, 74–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Druckman, J. N. (2001). The implications of framing effects for citizen competence. Political Behavior, 23, 225–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Feldman, N. (2008). What is it about Mormonism? New York Times Magazine, January 6.Google Scholar
  14. Finke, R., & Stark, R. (2005). The churching of America 1776–2005: Winners and losers in our religious economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gallup. (2011). In U.S., 22% are hesitant to support a Mormon in 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from
  16. Givens, T. (1997). The viper on the hearth: Mormons, myths, and the construction of heresy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Green, J. C. (2007). The faith factor: How religion influences American elections. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  18. Green, J. C. (2010). Religious diversity and American politics: A view from the polls. In A. Wolfe & I. Katznelson (Eds.), Religion and democracy in the United States: Danger or opportunity?. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Green, J. C., & Silk, M. (2009). No saints need apply. Religion in the News, 11(3), 4–7. 26.Google Scholar
  20. Herberg, W. (1955). Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An essay in American religious sociology. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  21. Hogg, M. A., & Abrams, D. (1988). Social identifications. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Jackman, S., & Vavreck, L. (2010). Primary politics: Race, gender, and age in the 2008 democratic primary. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Policy, 20(2), 153–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jones, J. M. (2007). Some Americans reluctant to vote for Mormon, 72-year-old presidential candidates: Strong support for black, women, Catholic candidates. Gallup News Service. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from
  24. Kalkan, O., Layman, G. C., & Uslaner, E. M. (2009). Bands of others? Attitudes toward Muslims in contemporary American society. Journal of Politics, 71, 847–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kane, J. G., Craig, S. C., & Wald, K. D. (2004). Religion and presidential politics in Florida: A list experiment. Social Science Quarterly, 85(2), 281–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kinder, D. R. (1998). Opinion and action in the realm of politics. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  27. Layman, G. C., Kalkan, K. O., & Green, J. C. (n.d.) A Muslim president? Explaining misperceptions about Barack Obama’s faith in the 2008 presidential election. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  28. Layman, G. C., & Green, J. C. (2005). Wars and rumors of wars: The contexts of cultural conflict in American political behavior. British Journal of Political Science, 36(1), 61–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Linker, D. (2006). The big test. The New Republic, December 23.Google Scholar
  30. McDermott, M. (n.d.). Is America ready for a Mormon president? Americans’ views of Mormons and the Romneys’ presidential runs. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  31. Monson, J. Q., & Riding, S. (2009). Social equality norms for race, gender, and religion in the American public during the 2008 presidential primaries. Paper presented at The Transformative Election of 2008 Conference, Ohio State University, October 1–4.Google Scholar
  32. Nelson, T. E., Oxley, Z. M., & Clawson, R. A. (1997). Toward a psychology of framing effects. Political Behavior, 19, 221–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Penning, J. (2009). Americans’ views of Muslims and Mormons: A social identity theory approach. Politics and Religion, 2, 277–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 65–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2000). Does intergroup contact reduce prejudice? Recent meta-analytic findings. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Reducing prejudice and discrimination. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2006). Many Americans uneasy with mix of religion and politics. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from
  37. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2007a). Politics and elections: How the public perceives Romney, Mormons. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from
  38. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2007b). Clinton and Giuliani seen as not highly religious; Romney’s religion raises concerns. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from
  39. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2011a). Republican candidates stir little enthusiasm. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from
  40. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2011b). Romney’s Mormon faith likely a factor in primaries, not in a general election. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from
  41. Putnam, R. D., & Campbell, D. E. (2010). American grace: How religion divides and unites us. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  42. Romney, M. (2007). Faith in America. Speech delivered at the George Bush Presidential Library, College Station, TX, December 6.Google Scholar
  43. Sherkat, D. E. (2007). Religion and survey non-response bias: Toward explaining the moral voter gap between surveys and voting. Sociology of Religion, 68(1), 83–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Spencer, J. (2007). Critics target Romney’s Mormonism. Spartanburg Herald-Journal, May 11.Google Scholar
  45. Steensland, B., Park, J. Z., Regnerus, M. D., Robinson, L. D., Bradford Wilcox, W., & Woodberry, R. D. (2000). The measure of American religion: Toward improving the state of the art. Social Forces, 79, 291–318.Google Scholar
  46. Streb, M. J., Burrell, B., Frederick, B., & Genovese, M. A. (2008). Social desirability effects and support for a female American president. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72, 76–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tajfel, H. (1982). Social identity and intergroup relations. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In S. Worchel & W. G. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.Google Scholar
  49. Tomz, M., Wittenberg, J., & King, G. (2003). CLARIFY: Software for interpreting and presenting statistical results. Journal of Statistical Software, 8(1).Google Scholar
  50. Vavreck, L., & Rivers, D. (2008). The 2006 cooperative congressional election study. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, 18(4), 355–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Weisberg, J. (2006). Romney’s religion. A Mormon president? No way. Slate, December 20. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • David E. Campbell
    • 1
    Email author
  • John C. Green
    • 2
  • J. Quin Monson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.University of AkronAkronUSA
  3. 3.Brigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

Personalised recommendations