NASHVILLE (BP) -- Three times more Protestant pastors plan to vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election, and Romney's Mormon beliefs are a factor for only a small number of pastors, according to a new survey.
The survey conducted by LifeWay Research Sept. 26-Oct. 3 found that 57 percent of Protestant pastors plan to vote for Romney compared with 17 percent for Obama. Twenty-two percent are still undecided.
The breakdown is similar to what it was in 2008 when John McCain challenged Obama for the presidency. A survey conducted by LifeWay Research in October 2008 found that 55 percent of Protestant pastors planned to vote for McCain compared with 20 percent for Obama and 22 percent undecided.
The survey also found that Romney's Mormon background has had little to no influence on pastors' voting intentions. A majority of pastors (82 percent) who plan to vote for someone other than Romney say their decision was not at all related to his Mormon faith. And 60 percent of undecided pastors say their hesitation has not at all been influenced by Romney's faith.
"The historical significance of the first Mormon candidate nominated for president does not appear to alter pastors' political positions," said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research.
A 2011 LifeWay Research survey revealed most pastors, some 75 percent, do not consider Mormons to be Christians.
"If agreement on matters of faith was a necessity for pastors' voting decisions, Romney would have little support from pastors," McConnell concluded. "In fact, Romney's Mormon faith has led very few pastors to select a different candidate or remain undecided."
The strongest indicator of voting intentions among pastors is their political party preference. Fifty-two percent of Protestant pastors identify as Republican, 16 percent as Democrat and 23 percent Independent.
Eighty-two percent of pastors who identify as Republican plan to vote for Romney, while 80 percent of pastors who consider themselves Democrat plan to vote for Obama. Forty-seven percent of pastors who are Independent plan to vote for Romney.
"Another strong indicator of voting intentions is whether the pastor self-identifies as mainline or evangelical," McConnell said. "Self-identified evangelical pastors are predominantly planning to support Romney."
Sixty-six percent of pastors who are self-identified evangelicals plan to vote for Romney while 9 percent are for Obama and 22 percent are undecided.
Forty-four percent of mainline pastors plan to vote for Romney. Twenty-eight percent support Obama, and 25 percent are undecided. The Republican candidate, however, has gained support from mainline pastors since the last election. In the 2008 election, only 36 percent of mainline pastors planned to vote for McCain. Thirty-seven percent supported Obama, and 24 percent were undecided.
Voting intentions also had regional differences. Pastors in the Northeast (28 percent) are more likely to vote for Obama compared to those in the South (14 percent) and West (15 percent).
Pastors in the South (60 percent) are more likely to vote for Mitt Romney compared to those in the Northeast (50 percent).
In 2008, it was younger voters who flocked to the polls to cast their ballot for Obama. But young pastors are actually less likely to support him. This year, 14 percent of pastors age 18-44 support Obama, compared to 21 percent of those age 55-64 and 23 percent of those 65 and older who back the president. Twenty-six percent of pastors age 18-44 are still undecided.
"It's clear pastors are not selecting a spiritual leader for the United States when they vote for president," McConnell said. "They are selecting the leader of the executive branch of government. The study shows a significant majority of pastors prefer the direction, policies and values of Mitt Romney."
The survey included telephone interviews with pastors at 1,000 Protestant churches.
Carol Pipes is editorial manager of LifeWay Christian Resources corporate communications. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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