Despite weeks of controversy sparked by a Dallas pastor labeling Mitt Romney's Mormon religion a cult, a study released today shows that Americans are no more familiar with the presidential hopeful's religious beliefs now than they were in July.
The study, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, shows that only 42% of Americans can correctly identify Romney as a Mormon. That number is statistically unchanged since the group's last survey, conducted in July, when 40% of Americans said they knew Romney was a Mormon.
The only subgroup in the study to show significantly increased knowledge of Romney's religion since July was evangelical Protestants, whose knowledge of Romney's religious faith rose from 44% in July to 53% now.
Unsurprisingly, the study shows a correlation in which those more likely to be paying attention to the GOP primary are also more likely to know more about Romney's religion. Among Tea Party members and registered Republicans, knowledge of Romney's religion hovers above 50%, and in surveyed registered voters it holds at 49%.
With not one but two Mormons in this GOP presidential race (Jon Huntsman is the other), knowledge and acceptance of Mormonism, formally the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has been creeping up. In the latest NBC/WSJ poll, two thirds of respondents said they were comfortable with Romney's faith, and that it would not interfere with his decision making as president.
Beyond the political realm, Mormonism has taken a larger role in the cultural discourse of late as well. The success of the Tony-award winning musical "The Book of Mormon" by the creators of South Park, as well as a multi-million dollar ad campaign featuring a diverse cast and prominent Mormons like The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, have raised awareness of the religion, in their own ways.
Mainstream news outlets have discovered Mormons, too - even in unlikely places like Brooklyn. Just this morning, the New York Times ran a feature story about Mormon style in among young people from BYU to Bushwick. Their findings, in summary: skinny jeans are ok, beards and tattoos, not so much.