With five months until voters go to the polls, they thought June marked a good time to assess the role of religion in the presidential contest – and Newport noted that he had gotten calls from journalists, academics, and regular citizens asking about the issue.
Mr. Romney is, as election watchers know, a Mormon. Newport, Mr. Jones, and Ms. Saad thought it wise to update the trend on Romney by asking voters if they would support a generally well-qualified candidate who happened to be Mormon. Much as Obama's race could have been a roadblock for him last cycle, there's interest in determining if Romney's religion might be a sleeper factor this year.
"I think religion is going to be at least subliminally an issue in this election," Newport said on the conference call.
While the public has shown growing acceptance over time for black, female, Roman Catholic, and gay candidates, the numbers for Mormons have remained "flat historically," Jones said. When Romney's father, George Romney, ran for the Republican nomination for president, an April 1967 Gallup poll indicated that 17 percent of Americans would not support a Mormon's candidacy.
While question substance is one goal of the call – and a follow-up conversation a day later – another is to make sure the questions asked will prompt a phone conversation of 18 minutes or less. Gallup research indicates that respondents tend to tune out or jump off a call at that point.
Mr. Krosnick of Stanford notes that this preliminary part of the poll process is key because poor question construction can create bias and ultimately influence the data. Surveys that pose agree-or-disagree, true-or-false, or yes-or-no questions typically push people in the affirmative direction, he says.