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A Pew poll out today draws a fine line: It is important for presidential aspirants to be seen as religious, but most do not get a big bump from being perceived as "very religious." The new data also show how little the public knows about the religious and social views of the top presidential contenders as the campaigns kick into high-gear.

Across the board, if people believe a candidate is "not too" or "not at all" religious, they are not likely to view that candidate favorably. But there are smaller, if any, rating differences between those who say a candidate is "very" vs. "somewhat" religious. For example, 77 percent of those who see Giuliani as very religious rate him favorably, as do 73 percent of those who find him somewhat religious, but that dips substantially to 43 percent among those who find him less religious than that.

And faith matters: In the June Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll, 13 percent of Americans said a "strong religious faith" was an "absolutely essential" candidate quality, another 30 percent called it "very important." And both those numbers spiked higher among Republicans. (Religiosity trailed other candidate qualities in the poll; more, nearly half, mentioned "honest and trustworthy" as absolutely essential than any of the seven items tested.)

But underneath this finding is a broader point - many people have not yet focused on this important aspect of the campaign. In the new Pew poll, large percentages volunteered that they did not know enough to rate the candidates' religiosity. Nearly two-thirds say so about Thompson, more than half about Romney. And more than two in 10 couldn't rate Clinton's level of faith.

There is even lower awareness of Giuliani's position on abortion. Overall, about seven in 10 are not sure about the mayor's position on abortion (historically he has staked out a pro-choice stance). Among Republicans, six in 10 didn't give an answer. And more critically, Republican and GOP-leaning voters who know Giuliani is pro-choice are about as likely to view him favorably as those who are not sure.

The poll also reinforces the notion that Romney's Mormonism may have a negative impact on some voters. Here, a quarter of people say they'd be less likely to vote for a Mormon for president, while only 5 percent say they'd be more likely to support a Mormon.

A Muslim candidate would start with a even greater disadvantage - 45 percent would be less likely to support a Muslim candidate - but the biggest negative among those tested in the Pew poll would be a candidate who does not believe in God. More than six in 10 would be less likely to vote for a non-believer. That is another reason it is crucial for candidates to be seen as religious, even if not deeply so.

--Jon Cohen

By Washington Post editors  |  September 6, 2007; 4:50 PM ET
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It is absurd that people focus on a minute detail such as religion when selecting their favorite presidential candidate. America is supposed to be a country of equality, not one that would turn down a candidate who is a muslim or an atheist, there are much more important things in a person than the religion they practice. We should separate church from state and pay no attention to religion in the 2008 elections.

Posted by: lauralion | September 7, 2007 12:07 AM | Report abuse

"telephone interviews among a nationwide sample of 3,002 adults from August 1-18, 2007."

How much do you believe a poll based on the opinions of "ADULTS" who ANSWERED THE TELEPHONE????????

Not "likely voters" or "registered voters".......

....and who the heck answers their phone anymore???????

Just more manipulated media material ....

Posted by: bitbeat | September 6, 2007 9:24 PM | Report abuse

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