Is Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion fading as a negative?

TAMPA, Fla. -- As Mitt Romney prepares to give the biggest speech of his life Thursday evening, a new national poll suggests that one of his perceived political vulnerabilities — his Mormon faith — has receded as an issue.

The opinion survey, by the Pew Research Center, asked Americans what one word came to mind when they heard Romney’s name. Last fall, “Mormon” was the most frequent response when the independent polling operation asked that question.

Today, it is the Romney descriptor that has changed the most. Only eight out of 1,010 adults volunteered “Mormon,” compared with 60 in the 2011 survey.

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Instead, reflecting the country’s shifting impressions of the Republican presidential nominee — and the impact of hundreds of millions of dollars of ads by both sides — words that came to mind most often were honest, businessman, rich, good and conservative.

When all the responses were tallied, though, the word choices were predominantly negative, reflecting Romney’s continuing struggle to surmount unfavorable voter attitudes (another consequence of the long presidential campaign). Negative words offered by respondents (42%) included liar, arrogant, crook, out of touch, distrust and fake. Positive word associations (28%) or neutral ones (30%), most of which are listed above, accounted for the rest.

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Romney’s religion has periodically erupted as an issue in his presidential runs. Some voters, including many Protestant evangelicals, regard Mormonism as a cult. After initially shying away from talking about his religious faith, the first Mormon to be nominated for president by a major party has begun to embrace it publicly.

He is now allowing reporters to accompany him to Sunday morning services, and at the closing session of the GOP convention in Tampa, three people whom Romney worked with in his church will address the delegates.

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