Maybe Mitt Romney should have waited one election cycle to run for president.
Romney was dogged by negative perceptions about his Mormon faith during his unsuccessful 2012 bid for the presidency. But new research shows attitudes about Mormons are warming, just as they are for most other faith groups in the United States.
Using a “thermometer” to gauge opinions about various religions, the Pew Research Center said American feelings about Mormons improved from 48 to 54 degrees since 2014.
“The increase in mean ratings is broad based,” Pew said in the February report titled “Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups.”
“Warmer feelings are expressed by people in all the major religious groups analyzed, as well as by both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and younger and older adults.”
Nearly every faith tradition enjoyed greater acceptance than it did nearly three years earlier.
Jews saw an increase from 63 to 67 degrees, the highest temperature Pew reported. Catholics jumped from 62 to 66 degrees and Mainline Protestants rose from 62 to 65 degrees. Hindus spiked from 50 to 58 degrees and Buddhists from 53 to 60 degrees.
Those experiencing some of the greatest thawing were atheists and Muslims, who saw increases in temperature from 41 to 50 degrees and 40 to 48 degrees, respectively.
Evangelical Christians alone saw no improvement since 2014. They remained steady at 61 degrees, Pew said.
The research organization said it surveyed 4,248 adults Jan. 9-23, 2017. Attitudes toward different religions varied widely by generation, Pew said.
“For example, young adults — those ages 18 to 29 — express warmer feelings toward Muslims than older Americans do,” according to a summary posted online.
In fact, young adults rated all of the faiths in a warm range, from 54 degrees for Mormons and 66 degrees for Buddhists.
“By contrast, older Americans (ages 65 and older) rate some religious groups, such as Mainline Protestants (75) and Jews (74), very warmly, and others, such as Muslims and atheists (44 degrees each), much more coolly,” Pew found.
Great variety was also uncovered in the attitudes religious groups have about one another.
“While for the most part Jews and Christians tend to rate each other warmly, atheists and evangelicals continue to view each other in a negative light,” Pew reported.
The study reaffirmed the tendency faith groups have to rate themselves more highly.
“Jewish respondents give Jews an average rating of 91 degrees on the 0-to-100 scale,” Pew said. “Catholics rate their own group at a warm 83. And self-described atheists rate atheists at 82.”
Four in ten respondents, or 44 percent, reported having warm feelings about evangelicals, compared to 38 percent who were mid-thermometer about them and 18 percent who were very cool toward them.
But when self-described evangelicals are removed from the statistics, only 32 percent of Americans rated the group in the warmer sections of the thermometer, Pew said.
Republicans rated evangelicals warmest — at 71 degrees. Catholics, Jews and Mainline Christians were close behind. Republicans also rated Muslims cooler than atheists.
Democratic leaning Americans had the warmest feelings towards Jews, at 66 percent, followed by Catholics, Buddhists, Mainline Christians and Hindus. Their coolest feelings were for evangelicals and Mormons at 53 and 52 degrees, respectively.