Washington, USA - One-third of Mormons in the US believe that American voters are not ready to elect Mitt Romney, or any other member of their church, as president.
A survey of adherents to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) released on Thursday found that almost half of Mormons in the US considered themselves more discriminated against than African Americans.
According to the research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, suspicion spills over to political life with 32% of Mormons believing that Romney's religion will count against him in a presidential election. A little more than half say US voters will accept a Mormon in the White House.
While 97% of Mormons regard themselves as Christians, large numbers of other Americans do not because of the church's origins and some of its practices, including a belief that its present leader is a prophet from God.
Pew said it undertook the latest research because of heightened awareness of the LDS church in American life even though Mormons only make up 2% of the US population.
"With a Mormon candidate among the frontrunners for the 2012 [Republican] presidential nomination, a musical about Mormons playing on Broadway and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints running television ads about ordinary Mormons, America is in the midst of what some media accounts have dubbed a 'Mormon moment'," the report said.
"Many Mormons feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against and not accepted by other Americans as part of mainstream society. Yet, at the same time, a majority of Mormons think that acceptance of Mormonism is rising."
According to the Pew Forum survey, 46% of Mormons say there is "a lot of discrimination in the US" against them. Just 31% say there is a similar level of discrimination against black people.
About two in three Mormons say Americans "do not see Mormonism as part of mainstream American society". Those findings mirror a Pew survey in November that showed that one-third of Americans say members of the LDS church are not Christians. Many others are undecided. The most common description of Mormonism was as a cult.
Scepticism is fuelled in part by a central tenet of Mormon belief that in 1823 the LDS movement's founder, Joseph Smith, was directed by an angel to a sacred text on golden plates buried in a stone box near his house in New Hampshire. Smith claimed the text was in "reformed Egyptian" and that he translated it using a seer stone. The result was the Book of Mormon, a central text of the religion.
The LDS church has also long been equated with polygamy even though it banned the practice in 1890. Today, only 2% of Mormons say having multiple wives is morally acceptable although another 11% say it is not a moral issue.
Half of US Mormons are also different from vast numbers of Americans in not drinking coffee and regarding alcohol as "morally problematic".
Rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion rises sharply among Christian evangelicals, with implications for Romney as he seeks the Republican nomination. More than half of evangelical Protestants, who make up a sizeable proportion of Republican primary voters in some states, say that Mormonism is not Christian and 15% said it would make them less likely to vote for Romney. However, they still preferred him to Barack Obama.
Last year, a pastor close to a rival Republican candidate, Rick Perry, said that Romney was "not a Christian" and called the LDS church a cult. Romney responded by saying: "The great majority of Americans understand that this nation was founded on the principle of religious tolerance and liberty. Most people do not make their decision based on someone's faith."
Over recent years, Romney has sidestepped questions as to the level of his commitment to the LDS church. He has said his faith is as "American as motherhood and apple pie" and said he "believes in family, believes in Jesus Christ". Critics have accused him of being evasive about his beliefs.
The latest survey confirms that the bulk of Mormons lean sharply to the right in politics. Two-thirds said they regarded themselves as conservative and three-quarters said they supported the Republican party over the Democrats.
That conservatism is reflected in levels of support for Mormons in high office, or seeking it. Nearly nine out of ten Mormons support Romney's bid for president whereas only half back Jon Huntsman, a more moderate Republican candidate who is also a Mormon.
The survey suggests Mormons are deeply religious with eight out of 10 saying the church is very important in their lives and that they pray every day. A similar number donate one-tenth of their earnings to the church.
Nearly half of Mormon men have served as missionaries. That includes Romney, who worked as a missionary in France.