Mormon Church's $4.6M ad campaign tries to educate Americans
Some 18 percent of Republican voters and 19 percent of independent voters say they can't bring themselves to support a Mormon running for president. The church is hoping to show that its members are just like all Americans and they're running a series of ads seeking to do just that.
Two of the Republicans running for President are practicing Mormons.
And while Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman aren't making a big deal out of their religion on the campaign trail, some voters are making a big deal out of it for them. According to a Gallup poll this summer, nearly one-fifth of Republican and independent voters say they couldn't see themselves voting for a Mormon. Some 27 percent of Democrats say the same thing.
"The largest differences in opposition to voting for a Mormon for president are by educational level, with adults who have not attended college more resistant than those with some college experience or college graduates," Gallup found.
Only gays and lesbians and atheists receive more bias when it comes to elections, the survey found.
With that in mind, and perhaps hoping to burnish its overall image, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the more formal name of the Mormon Church, launched a $4.6 million campaign to show that its members are just like other Americans — working in all kinds of jobs, spending time with families of all make-ups and representing a diverse ethnic and cultural background.
Norman Tolk, a professor of physics at Vanderbilt University was featured in one such television spot, where he described his love for music combined with his fascination with physics. Tolk said he wasn't sure why he, a practicing Mormon, was chosen to be on the of the faces of the church nationally.
"I, of course, am very active and very much a part of the church," he said. "But I'm not an official spokesman."
Tolk said he thinks a lot of the reluctance people have to support the Mormon church stems from a lack of understanding.
"People who are not Mormons believe they are insular and that they perhaps are not well-educated," Tolk said. "Mormons in general are very well-educated. They are in fact involved politically across the entire political spectrum and it's clear that's the case because you have such people as Harry Reid, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman all belonging to the same church, the Mormon Church."
Tolk said one purpose of the ads was to highlight the racial diversity of the 14 million member church. He also pointed out that more than half of that membership lives outside the United States.
Since the 1970s, Tolk said, the Mormon Church has tried to be more visible in the media in order to change the public perception of the church. And while he could see how people might consider these ads an effort to get people to consider a vote for either Romney or Huntsman, he doesn't think that's the motivation.
"There are many people, particularly evangelicals, who believe that members of the church or the church itself is not truly a Christian church, which I know for a fact is not the case," Tolk said.
Wes Kosova, Washington editor for Bloomberg Businessweek, said the I'm a Mormon ads were aired nearly 800,000 times in 2011. He said the ads clearly aren't overtly political. They don't endorse a particular candidate and they don't take a position on any issue.
"We see a lot of these kinds of ads that skirt the line," he said. "This ad is something different."
He said even if you did look at the ads through a political lens you don't feel like they're telling you to vote for either Romney or Huntsman, but rather telling you to consider them just like you would any American.
Kosova said the tone of the Mormon Church's ads have certainly evolved over time, going from a more prosthelytizing tone to something that makes you feel better about Mormon's, rather than draw people to their faith.
"While not overtly political, they're certainly taking place in the context of a campaign that would benefit two candidate," Kosova said. "I don't think the Church is saying vote for Romney or vote for Huntsman. But it would certainly benefit them."
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