January 12, 2012

Mormons in America - Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society

Reactions to the “Mormon Moment”

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” and other popular treatments of Mormonism in entertainment media have brought sustained attention to Mormons and their religion, but Mormons themselves think that the American people are ill-informed about Mormonism and reluctant to accept Mormonism as part of mainstream American society. More than four-in-ten Mormons (46%) say they face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today. And more than half of those surveyed say that the portrayal of Mormons in television and movies is harmful to Mormons’ image.

At the same time, however, Mormons also say that acceptance of Mormonism by the broader society is on the rise, and most Mormons think that Americans are ready to elect a Mormon president. And large majorities of Mormons are happy with their community as a place to live and satisfied with the way things are going in their lives.

Assessment of Americans’ Knowledge of Mormonism

how much do american people know about mormonism

Most Mormons think that non-Mormons in the U.S. are ill-informed about Mormonism. More than six-in-ten Mormons say that the American people as a whole know “not too much” (58%) or nothing at all (4%) about the Mormon religion. Less than four-in-ten Mormons say that the American people know a great deal (4%) or “some” (33%) about Mormonism. The view that most Americans are uninformed about Mormonism is held by six-in-ten Mormons living in the West (63%) and by a similar number of those living in other regions of the country (59%).

Mormons’ assessment of the public’s knowledge about Mormonism tracks fairly closely with the public’s self-assessment. A November 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that among non-Mormons in the U.S., 50% say they know “not very much” or “nothing at all” about Mormonism, while 49% say they know “a great deal” or “some” about the Mormon religion. And a 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that roughly half or more of the public could not correctly identify that Joseph Smith was a Mormon (49%), that the Mormon religion was founded after 1800 (56%) and that the Book of Mormon recounts Jesus’ appearance in North America (60%).

Acceptance of Mormonism

is mormonism a christian religion

Mormons are nearly unanimous in the view that Mormonism is a Christian religion, with 97% expressing this point of view. By contrast, a November 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that a third of non-Mormons in the U.S. (32%) say the Mormon faith is not a Christian religion; 51% of non-Mormons think that Mormonism is a Christian religion, while 17% are unsure. Compared with other religious groups, more white evangelical Protestants say that Mormonism is not a Christian religion (47%). The general public’s views about whether Mormonism is a Christian religion are unchanged since 2007.

Two-thirds of Mormons (68%) say that the American people as a whole do not see Mormonism as part of mainstream American society, while 28% say their religion is accepted as part of mainstream American culture. Large majorities of Mormons across a variety of subgroups subscribe to the view that Mormonism is seen as being outside the mainstream. Among both men and women, younger Mormons and older Mormons, college graduates and those with less education, roughly two-thirds share the view that most Americans do not see Mormonism as part of mainstream society. There also is little difference on this question between Mormons living in the West and those living in other parts of the country. About two-thirds of both groups say most Americans do not view Mormonism as part of mainstream society.

do the american people see mormonism as part of mainstream society

However, most Mormons think that acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise and that the country is ready to elect a Mormon president. More than six-in-ten (63%) say that the American people are becoming more likely to see Mormonism as mainstream. By comparison, only 5% say Americans are becoming less inclined to view Mormonism as mainstream, and 29% say that the situation is not changing very much.

most say acceptance of mormonism on the rise

The view that acceptance of Mormonism is increasing is more common among college graduates (68%) than among those with a high school education or less (57%). Similarly, Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment (those who say they pray every day, that religion is very important in their own lives and that they attend religious services at least weekly) are more convinced that acceptance of Mormonism is on the upswing (70%) than are those with lower levels of religious commitment (47%). Men and women express similar views on this question, and the views of Mormons living in the West closely resemble the views of Mormons living in other parts of the country.

are the american people ready to elect a mormon president

Mormons who think their religion is already accepted as part of mainstream society are more apt to say that acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise compared with those who say that Mormonism is not yet seen as mainstream. Majorities in both groups, however, say that Americans are becoming more likely to view Mormonism as mainstream (78% and 58%, respectively).

Most Mormons surveyed (56%) think that the country is ready to elect a Mormon president, while one-third (32%) say the country is not ready for a Mormon president and 12% are unsure.4 Recent Pew Research Center polling indicates that Romney’s Mormonism is a potential stumbling block in the GOP nomination campaign, though it is unlikely to affect him adversely in the general election should he obtain the GOP nomination.

Mormon men are much more convinced than Mormon women that Americans are ready to elect a Mormon president (64% vs. 48%). And more Republican or Republican-leaning Mormons (64%) than Democrat or Democratic-leaning Mormons (36%) say the public is ready for a Mormon chief executive. Mormons living in the Western U.S. and those living in other regions express similar views on this question.

Mormonism and the Media

A majority of those polled (54%) say that the way Mormons are portrayed in television and movies hurts society’s image of Mormons in general. Far fewer (15%) say that the way Mormons are portrayed by the entertainment industry helps their image, while 22% say that the way Mormons are portrayed on TV and in the movies has no effect on society’s view of Mormons.

The view that Mormons’ image is harmed by their portrayal in entertainment media is particularly common among college graduates, among whom 63% express this view.
By comparison, fewer Mormons with some college education (52%) or with a high school education or less (47%) say that Mormonism’s image is harmed by the portrayal of Mormons in the entertainment media.

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Mormons appear to make a distinction between the entertainment media and the news media. Whereas upwards of half of Mormons say that the image of their religion is harmed by their portrayal in television and movies, 52% of those surveyed say that coverage of Mormons and Mormonism by American news organizations is generally fair. A sizable minority (38%), however, says that the news media’s coverage of Mormonism is unfair.

Anti-Mormon Discrimination

Nearly half of Mormons (46%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Mormons in the United States today. Larger numbers of Mormons say that gays and lesbians (59%) and Muslims (55%) face a lot of discrimination. Fewer Mormons see a lot of discrimination against blacks (31%), evangelicals (19%) or atheists (13%).

discrimination against mormons compared to others

Mormons are about twice as likely as the public as a whole to say Mormons face a lot of discrimination (46% vs. 24% of the general public). (Similarly, a 2009 Pew Research Center poll found that blacks were more likely than the public as a whole to say there is a lot of discrimination against blacks, and white evangelicals were more likely than the general public to say there is a lot of discrimination against evangelical Christians.) Among Mormons, there are few large demographic differences in perceptions of anti-Mormon discrimination.

anti-mormon discrimination

The concern among Mormons about discrimination is highlighted by answers to an open-ended question in the survey asking respondents to describe in their own words the most important problems facing Mormons in the U.S. today. More than half of Mormons (56%) name something related to discrimination or misperceptions about Mormonism as one of the most important problems faced by Mormons today. This includes 34% who name misconceptions about Mormonism, 12% who say that Mormons are not seen as Christian, 7% who say that Mormonism is seen as a cult and 7% who say that Mormons are perceived as polygamists.

most important problems for mormons

Perceptions of Friendliness Toward Mormons

Half of Mormons (50%) say evangelical Christians are unfriendly toward Mormons, while 21% say evangelicals are neutral toward Mormons and 18% say evangelicals are friendly toward Mormons. The view that evangelicals are unfriendly toward Mormons is somewhat more prevalent among Mormon men (54%) than among Mormon women (45%). Nearly two-thirds of Mormon college graduates (65%) view evangelicals as unfriendly toward Mormonism, compared with roughly half of those with some college education (52%) and roughly one-third of those with a high school education or less (35%). Six-in-ten Mormons who live outside the Western U.S. (60%) say evangelicals generally are unfriendly toward Mormons, compared with less than half of Mormons who reside in the West (46%). Two thirds of Mormons who served a full-time mission (65%) view evangelicals as unfriendly toward Mormons, which is significantly higher than the number saying this among those who did not serve a mission (44%).

half of mormons say evangelicals are unfriendly toward mormons

Far fewer Mormons think that people who are not religious are unfriendly toward Mormonism. Whereas fully half of Mormons (50%) say evangelicals are unfriendly toward their religion, fewer than one-in-four Mormons (22%) say that people who are not religious are unfriendly toward Mormons.

Mormon men and women express roughly similar views on this question. College graduates are somewhat more likely than those with less education to say people who are not religious are neutral toward Mormons and less likely to view them as unfriendly toward Mormonism. Mormons who have not served a mission are somewhat more likely than those with missionary experience to say that people who are not religious are unfriendly toward Mormonism (24% vs. 17%).

Similarities and Differences with Other Religions

mormon similiarities and differences with other faiths

Mormons are divided over whether Mormonism and Catholicism are mostly similar or mostly different; 46% say Mormonism and Catholicism are very or somewhat similar to each other, while 50% say the two faiths are very or somewhat different from one another. Mormons are similarly divided over whether evangelical Protestantism and their own faith are similar (40%) or different (45%), with 15% unsure. Four in-ten Mormons see their faith as similar to Judaism, while 48% say Mormonism and Judaism are very or somewhat different from one another. Islam is the one religion asked about on which a clear consensus is seen; 63% of Mormons say the Muslim religion and their own religion are different than each other, while 20% say Mormonism and Islam are similar.

Catholics and white evangelical Protestants are much less likely to see their own faiths as similar to Mormonism than Mormons are to see Catholicism and Protestantism as similar to Mormonism. An August 2009 Pew Research Center poll found that 22% of American Catholics say that Mormonism and their own religion are very or somewhat similar, while 59% of Catholics say Catholicism and Mormonism are very or somewhat different. Among white evangelical Protestants, 18% say Mormonism and their own faith are similar, while two-thirds (66%) view Mormonism and their own faith as different.

which religions are similar to mormonism

More Mormon men than women say that both Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism are similar to their own faith. Upwards of half of Mormon men (52%) say their faith is similar to Catholicism and 49% say Mormonism is similar to evangelicalism. Among Mormon women, by contrast, 40% see their own faith as similar to Catholicism and 31% see Mormonism as similar to evangelicalism. The differences between men and women are not statistically significant on the questions of whether Mormonism is similar to Judaism and Islam.

The majority of Mormons under 50 (56%) say Mormonism is similar to Catholicism. Far fewer older Mormons take this view (33%). Generational differences are smaller on the questions about evangelicalism, Judaism and Islam.

College graduates are consistently more likely than those with less education to see each of these other faiths as similar to Mormonism. Similarly, Mormons who have served a full-time mission are consistently more likely than those who have not served a mission to view other faiths as similar to Mormonism.

Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment and those with lower religious commitment express similar opinions on the questions of whether Catholicism and Islam are similar to or different from Mormonism. However, Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment are more inclined than those with lower commitment to view evangelicalism and Judaism as similar to Mormonism.

Mormons in the West express roughly comparable views to those in other regions about the similarities and differences between Mormonism and other faiths. Notably, the view that Mormonism is similar to evangelicalism is much more common among Mormons who reside in the South (54%) than among Mormons who live outside the South (37%). (The Pew Forum’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that upwards of one-third of Southerners are evangelicals and that half of evangelicals live in the South.)

Satisfaction with Communities and Lives

Upwards of nine-in-ten Mormons rate their communities as excellent (52%) or good (40%) places to live. Mormons’ rate their communities more positively than does the American public as a whole (52% excellent among Mormons compared with 38% excellent among the general public).

widespread satisfaction with communities

Community satisfaction is particularly high among well-educated Mormons and among those living in the West – especially Utah. Nearly two thirds of college graduates (64%) rate their community as an excellent place to live, compared with roughly half of those with some college education (48%) or a high school education or less (46%). Among Mormons living in the West, 55% rate their community as an excellent place to live, a figure that rises to 71% among Mormons living in Utah. Among Mormons living outside the West, 44% rate their community as an excellent place to live.

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The vast majority of Mormons (87%) also say that they are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives. Mormons rate their own lives more positively than do members of the public as a whole (75%).

Younger Mormons express particularly high levels of satisfaction with the way things are going in their lives. Fully 92% of Mormons under age 50 are satisfied with their lives. By comparison, life satisfaction stands at 79% among Mormons over age 50.

Mormons with at least some college experience rate their lives more positively than those with a high school education or less; 92% of college graduates are satisfied with their lives as are 89% of those with some college education, compared with 80% of those with a high school education or less. And Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment are more satisfied with their lives than Mormons with lower levels of religious commitment (91% vs. 78%).

While a majority of Mormons are satisfied with their lives, most Mormons (75%) are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. today. On this question, Mormons closely resemble the public as a whole (78% dissatisfied in an October 2011 Pew Research Center survey).

most are dissatisfied with direction of country

Mormon Friendship Networks

Nearly six-in-ten Mormons (57%) say that most (53%) or all (4%) of their close friends are also Mormon. Among Mormon women, upwards of six-in-ten (62%) say that all or most of their close friends are Mormon, compared with 52% of Mormon men who say this.

mormon friendship networks

Six-in-ten Mormons living in the West (61%) say that all or most of their close friends are Mormon, a figure that rises to 73% among those living in Utah. Fewer Mormons who live outside the West say that all or most of their friends are fellow Mormons (47%). Having a mostly Mormon friendship network is substantially more common among those with the highest levels of religious commitment (67%) than among those with lower levels of religious commitment (34%). And lifelong Mormons are more apt than converts to say that most or all of their friends are Mormons (60% vs. 48%).


Footnotes:

4 This question was asked in the context of a larger set of questions about the acceptance of Mormonism by the broader society and was designed to help gauge Mormons’ views on this topic. It was not meant to obtain Mormons’ predictions about the outcome of the current presidential campaign. (return to text)

Photo Credit: © Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis