July 24, 2009

A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S.

III. Social and Political Views

Mormons stand out from the general population and other major religious traditions for their conservatism on both cultural and political issues. Strong majorities of Mormons say there are absolute standards of right and wrong and that they feel their values are often threatened by Hollywood. They also are considerably more Republican than any other major religious tradition, including members of evangelical Protestant churches, and tend to take conservative positions on whether abortion should be legal or illegal, whether homosexuality should be accepted or discouraged by society and views of the size and role of government.

On issues of foreign affairs, Mormons stand out for their view that the U.S. should be active in world affairs and for being slightly more likely than others to favor military strength over diplomacy.

Morality and Modern Society
Political Ideology and Partisanship
Social and Political Issues
Size and Role of Government
Foreign Affairs
Political and Social Differences Among Mormons

Morality and Modern Society

A strong majority of Mormons (88%) say there are absolute standards of right and wrong. This is higher than among the general population and most other religious traditions.

A significant portion of Mormons (68%) also agree that their values are often threatened by Hollywood, which is much higher than among the general population (42%). The religious traditions that are the next most likely to agree are Jehovah’s Witnesses (54%) and members of evangelical Protestant churches (53%). In all other major religious traditions, a majority disagree that their values are often threatened by Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
Views of morality and modern society
On the question of living in a modern society, however, Mormons tend to resemble the general population. Just a third of Mormons (36%) agree with the statement that there is a conflict between being religious and living in a modern society, which is similar to the percentage among the general public (40%). Jehovah’s Witnesses (59%), members of evangelical Protestant churches (49%) and members of historically black Protestant churches (46%) are more likely than Mormons to perceive such a conflict.

Political Ideology and Partisanship

Ideology and party affiliation
Mormons are very politically conservative. Six-in-ten Mormons identify as conservative, about three-in-ten (27%) say they consider themselves moderate and only one-in-ten identify as liberal. This is in stark contrast to the general population, in which roughly a third identify as conservative (37%), a third as moderate (36%) and 20% as liberal.

The summer 2007 Landscape Survey finds that an even larger share of Mormons identify as Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party than identify as conservative. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Mormons say they identify with or lean toward the Republican party, 15 percentage points higher than among members of evangelical churches (50%) and 30 points higher than among the general population (35%). Just one-fifth of Mormons (22%) say they are Democrats and the remainder say they do not favor either party. Members of historically black churches are the only religious group in which there is more consensus in partisanship than Mormons, with 77% identifying as Democrats.

This places Mormons to the right of all other major religious traditions on a continuum of ideology and partisanship; in fact, they are somewhat more conservative and Republican than members of evangelical Protestant churches. By contrast, smaller, non-Christian religious traditions, such as Hindus, Buddhists and Jews, cluster around the liberal, Democratic end of the spectrum. Members of historically black Protestant churches are the farthest along the Democratic spectrum but are more conservative than members of other faiths that lean Democratic.
Party and ideology of religious traditions

Social and Political Issues

Abortion should be...
In line with their party identification and ideology, most Mormons take an anti-abortion or “pro-life” position on the issue of abortion. Fully 70% say abortion should be illegal in most or all circumstances, compared with 42% among the general population. Unlike other major religious traditions that oppose abortion, however, Mormon opposition is concentrated on opposing it in most cases (61%) rather than in all cases (9%). Among members of evangelical Protestant churches, by contrast, 36% say abortion should be illegal in most cases and 25% say it should be illegal in all cases.
Social issues
Two-thirds of Mormons (68%) say homosexuality should be discouraged rather than accepted by society. This is comparable to the figure among members of evangelical Protestant churches (64%) and Muslims (61%) but significantly higher than among members of historically black Protestant churches (46%). Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most likely to say homosexuality should be discouraged, with 76% expressing this view. Among the general population, only 40% say it should be discouraged, with half saying it should be accepted.

Mormons are distinctive in their views on the origins of human life. When asked about the theory of evolution, only 22% of Mormons say it is the best explanation for human life, with three-in-four (75%) disagreeing. Only among one other major religious tradition – Jehovah’s Witnesses (90%) – does a higher proportion disagree that evolution is the best explanation for human life. The general public is more evenly divided on this question, with 48% saying it is the best explanation and 45% rejecting that position.

In terms of church involvement in politics, Mormons look similar to the rest of the U.S. population. Roughly half (48%) of Mormons say churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters, while the other half (47%) says religious bodies should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions. Americans overall tend to be similarly divided, with 46% saying houses of worship should keep out of politics and 50% saying they should express their viewpoints.

Size and Role of Government

Size and role of government
The conservative political ideology of the majority of Mormons extends to their views on the size and role of government. More than half of Mormons (56%) prefer a smaller government with fewer services, compared with 36% who prefer a bigger government with more services. The general public is much more evenly split, with 43% favoring a smaller government and 46% supporting a bigger government.

Similarly, Mormons are less likely than the population overall to support the government doing more to help the needy. Among the general public, two-thirds (62%) say the government should do more for the needy, while only about half of Mormons (49%) say this. Four-in-ten Mormons (42%) say government cannot afford to do much more to help the needy, compared with 29% among the population as a whole.

On the question of morality, Mormons favor a larger role for government. A majority (54%) says government should do more to protect morality, with a smaller number (39%) saying they worry the government is too involved in the issue of morality. Among the general population, the proportions are opposite – a narrow majority (52%) says government is too involved, while 40% say government should do more to protect morality.

On other issues, such as the environment, Mormons are somewhat more similar to the general population. For instance, majorities of Mormons (55%) and the general public (61%) said in summer 2007 that strong environmental laws are worth the cost. Conversely, about a third of each group (30% and 36%, respectively) says environmental laws cost too many jobs and hurt the economy.

Foreign Affairs

Foreign affairs
Members of most major religious traditions tend to agree with the statement that the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems at home; indeed, more than half of the general public (55%) says this, compared with 36% who say it is best for the future of the U.S. to be active in world affairs. Mormons, however, stand out for taking the opposite view. Half of Mormons (51%) say it is best to be active in world affairs, and just 37% say the country should focus more on problems at home. Jews are the only other major religious tradition in which a majority leans toward involvement in international affairs (53%).

Mormons are more likely than the general public to favor military strength over diplomacy as the best way to ensure peace. But a plurality of Mormons (49%) still lean toward diplomacy. More than a third (37%) says military strength is the best way. Among the general population, 59% say good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace, while 28% say military strength is the best way.

Political and Social Differences Among Mormons

Political and social views are linked with church attendance among Mormons, as among the general population. Those who attend services at least once a week are more than 30 percentage points more likely than Mormons who attend less frequently to be Republican (73% vs. 39%) and oppose legal abortion (78% vs. 44%). In fact, among those who attend church less often, opinion leans in the opposite direction on these two items; pluralities of those who attend church less than once a week are Democrats (40%) and favor legal abortion (49%). The same is true with regard to opinion on the size of government; among weekly attenders, 61% support a smaller government while 31% prefer a larger government, and among less-frequent attenders, just 37% prefer a smaller government while 53% prefer a bigger government.

The link between church attendance and ideology is less pronounced than with party affiliation, but it is still substantial. Two-thirds of weekly attenders (66%) say they are conservative, compared with 40% of those who attend less often. There is also a significant difference when it comes to the question of the best way to ensure peace. Nearly twice as many weekly attenders (41% vs. 24%) say a strong military is more important than good diplomacy in ensuring peace.

There also are some differences between Mormons depending on whether they are converts or lifelong members. While majorities of converts and nonconverts alike identify as Republican and say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, converts are considerably less likely than nonconverts to do so (52% of converts are Republican vs. 69% of lifelong members, and 59% of converts oppose legal abortion vs. 74% of nonconverts). On other issues, such as size of government and best way to ensure peace, however, there are no significant differences between converts and lifelong Mormons.

There is no significant age gap among Mormons on party affiliation and the question of the best way to ensure peace. On the issue of legal abortion, however, younger Mormons are significantly more conservative than their older counterparts. Among those under age 50, 74% say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while among those aged 50 and older, 62% say this. Conversely, on the issue of the size of government, Mormons under age 50 are less likely than those 50 and older to favor a smaller government (50% vs. 67%). Younger Mormons are also less likely than their older counterparts to describe themselves as ideological conservatives (57% vs. 66%).
Mormons and social and political issues
Like women compared with men overall, Mormon women are less likely than Mormon men to favor a smaller government (50% vs. 63%) or see military strength as the best way to ensure peace (32% vs. 42%). But there are no significant gender differences among Mormons on measures such as party affiliation, ideology and views on legal abortion.

Mormons who have more education tend to be more Republican. College graduates and those with some college education are 20 percentage points more likely to be Republican than those who have a high school education or less. A similar pattern exists on views on abortion, with 77% of college graduates or those with some college education opposing legal abortion, compared with 60% among those with a high school education or less. College graduates also are approximately 20 percentage points more likely to prefer a small government than those with a high school education or less. Differences in ideology also are significant, though somewhat smaller in magnitude: 63% of college graduates say they are conservative, compared with 52% of those with a high school diploma or less education.

There also are some political differences between Mormons in different geographic areas. In particular, Mormons in the western region of the U.S. are significantly more likely than Mormons from other regions to identify as Republican (68% vs. 55%). They also are more likely to say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases (72% vs. 62%; the figure among Mormons in Utah is 78%). There is no significant difference on other issues, such as the size of government and the best way to ensure peace.

Marital status also is an important predictor of political attitudes among Mormons. Those who are married are significantly more likely than unmarried Mormons to identify as conservative (66% vs. 43%) and Republican (70% vs. 52%) and to oppose legal abortion (73% vs. 63%). They also are more in favor of smaller government than unmarried Mormons (61% vs. 43%) and more apt to say that military strength is the best way to ensure peace (42% vs. 24%).

This report was written by Allison Pond, Research Associate, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Photo Credit: Religion News Service/Pete Souza, White House