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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Mitt Romney's Mormonism could hurt the Republican candidate with evangelical voters in his fight for party's presidential nomination, but those voters would favor him over President Barack Obama in the general election, a poll released Wednesday concluded.
Some 15 percent of evangelical Christians, a key constituency in the Republican presidential nomination battle, say they are wary of Mormonism and will not vote for Mitt Romney, the poll found.
But those same voters were more likely to favor the former Massachusetts governor, a Mormon, in the November 2012 general election over President Barack Obama, whom they dislike more, the Pew Research Center poll conducted November 9-14 said.
"You do see the potential for Romney's Mormonism to have an impact on the primary campaign," said Pew research Greg Smith.
"Those who think Mormonism is not a Christian religion are more reticent about Romney and his candidacy. At the same time those people are the people who are the strongest critics of Barack Obama. Fully 92 percent of them say they have an unfavorable view of Obama," he said.
Nearly two out of three white evangelical Christian voters in the poll did not believe Mormonism is a Christian religion and 15 percent of evangelicals would not support Romney.
Evangelical Christians may account for 60 percent of the votes cast in two of the first four Republican nomination contests, the January 3 Iowa caucuses and the January 21 South Carolina primary.
Among the 480 likely Republican voters polled, which had a 5.5 percentage point margin of error, Romney led with support from 23 percent of the participants, followed by former businessman Herman Cain with 22 percent and former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich with 16 percent.
While Gingrich has risen in recent national polls and Cain has fallen, Romney has maintained support in the low- to mid-20s, near the top of the pack.
In the overall poll of 2,001 adults, which had a 3 point margin of error, 50 percent had a favorable view of Obama, 38 percent viewed Romney favorably, 33 percent had a favorable view of Gingrich, 31 percent liked Cain and 25 percent had a favorable view of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Nearly nine of 10 Republican voters either did not know or did not care that Romney is a Mormon.
Half of likely Republican voters in the poll said Mormonism was a Christian religion, and one-third did not think so.
Romney did better in a head-to-head matchup with Obama than any of the other Republican candidates.
The fast-growing Mormon religion, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith and is based in Utah. Mormons have three books of scripture other than the Bible, including the Book of Mormon which Mormons believe was translated from golden plates discovered by Smith. Their views depart from Christianity in several respects.
Editing by Jackie Frank