Most don't know Romney's Mormon, Obama's Christian

USA - The faith factor in the 2012 presidential race is pretty fuzzy. Not only do most Americans fail to identify President Obama as Christian, three in four don't know Mitt Romney is a Mormon, according to a new survey.

And that matters, says Robert Jones, director of the Public Religion Research Institute, which did the survey in partnership with Religion News Service. The survey, released Monday, also found perceptions of a candidate's religion -- right or wrong -- matter to potential voter support.

Jones says:

Religion is one of the lenses people use to decide whether they can identify with a candidate. For all the talk about Romney's so-called Mormon problem, it can't be looming that large for him right now.

A bigger problem is that 48% Americans say Obama's religion -- whatever they think it is -- is somewhat or very different than their own. They are much less likely to support his candidacy.

Among the findings:

40% of Americans don't know Obama's religion; 38% correctly call him Christian, 18% continue to wrongly identify him as Muslim; 4% says he's not religious.

40% correctly identify Romney as Mormon; 46% don't know, 11% call him some form of Christian (1% Muslim, 1% not religious, 1% never heard of him) despite saturating media coverage on the matter in the 2008 primaries.

72% say Mormons hold religious beliefs that are somewhat or very different from their own.

56% of the public says it is very important or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs regardless of whether those beliefs are the same as their own.

Among those who know Romney is Mormon and who also say Mormons have very different religious beliefs than their own, Obama would beat Romney if the election were held tomorrow with 53% of votes to 36% for Romney.

That's a far bigger spread than the survey found overall, with Obama leading by eight percentage points over Romney, 44% to 36%.

The survey did not ask people to name Michele Bachmann's religious identity (she's an evangelical Christian but her denominational ties aren't currently clear).

But it did ask if people thought her religion was similar to their own: 38% said they have no idea; 31% said Bachmann's religious ideas were very or somewhat different than their own; 24% said they thought her view were very or somewhat similar. Another 5% never heard of her and 2% refused to answer.