NOTE: This post has been retracted. See here.
Article VI Blog has the scoop on the numbers behind the “Mormon President” question in last night’s debate. For those who didn’t watch, Williams told Romney he had a Wall Street Journal Poll, in which “44 percent of respondents say a Mormon president would have a difficult time uniting the country.” It was an odd question given the recent calm in the campaign regarding Romney’s religion. But hey- if that’s what the voters are saying, it must be relevant, right?
Would it surprise you to find out that that is very much NOT what the voters are saying? Indeed, the word Mormon doesn’t appear anywhere in the poll at all. Nor does the concept of Mormonism, or even religion in general. This is a straight poll with some very basic questions about who the respondent supports for president, etc. The final question reads as follows:
One of the goals people have mentioned as important for the next president to have is the ability to unite all Americans around goals and objectives for the country and to reduce the partisan fighting in Congress. I would like to list various presidential candidates. Please tell me whether you feel this person would be very successful, fairly successful, not too successful, or not at all successful in uniting the nation.
See anything in there about Mormonism or religion? Me neither. Responding to the poll, 22 percent thought Romney would not be too successful, and 22 percent also said he would not be at all successful. The total is 44%, giving Williams his cited number. But the number is for those who think Romney would be less than successful uniting the country, not those who think it’s because of his Mormonism. NBC must have just assumed, either sincerely or because it makes for a fun debate question, that this problem relates to Romney’s Mormonism. Problem is, there’s no support for such a crass conclusion. Anyone think there couldn’t be a thousand other reasons for that response? Especially given that many other candidates received very similar results (Giuliani came in at 46%, Huckabee at 43%)?
Unless NBC has some other explanation for how Williams drew that conclusion, this is really poor form, and they deserve to be kicked around for it. To have your flagship anchorman inserting blatant editorial conclusions into polling data in order to call a candidate out on his religion is just way beyond the line. Funny thing is, no one in the main stream press has picked this up yet. Hopefully NBC doesn’t make it through the weekend without some egg on its face.