With the White House race nearing an end, it's time for America's political pundits to face that fact that millions of voters will in fact be worried about Mitt Romney's Mormon faith on Election Day.
Many will be offended by what they believe are the intolerant, narrow teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on marriage. Others will be worried about Mormonism's history of opposing abortion rights.
"There really is a large group of people in America who won't vote for Mitt Romney for president because he is a Mormon," noted Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, in a recent Institute on Religion and Democracy lecture.
"It's a very large group and there is a name for them -- liberals."
This isn't the God-and-politics story most media insiders wanted to talk about during the 2012 campaign, said Barnes, who also works as a commentator for Fox News. The religion hook this time around was supposed to be clashes between Romney and Trinitarian Christians who consider Mormonism at best a sect, or at worst, a "theological cult" with its own prophet, scriptures and unorthodox doctrines on the nature of God and other eternal matters.
But a strange thing happened somewhere during the campaign. According to a number of political polls, the overwhelming majority of Christian conservatives quietly decided they could vote for the Republican nominee without endorsing his views on heaven, hell and the mysteries of the Godhead.
In one Gallup survey this past summer, potential voters were asked: "If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be a Mormon, would you vote for that person?" While 10 percent of Republicans answered "no," this negative stance toward Mormon candidates rose to 18 percent among self-declared "independents" and 24 percent among Democrats.
Another piece of pre-election research -- the American National Election Studies, by a scholar at the University of Sydney -- found that anxieties among evangelical Protestants have actually declined somewhat in recent years, with 36 percent expressing an "aversion" to Mormon candidates in 2007 and 33 percent feeling the same way in 2012.
Meanwhile, anti-Mormon attitudes among nonreligious voters rose from 21 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2012. Among voters who called themselves liberals, this aversion to Mormons rose from 28 percent to 43 percent during that same period. Political and religious liberals, according to this study, are now 10 percent more likely than evangelical Protestants to harshly prejudge Mormon candidates.