January 12, 2012

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

Politics, Society and Morality

Mormons are more conservative than the general public on a variety of political, social and moral issues. Compared with the population as a whole, Mormons are more Republican in their party affiliation and conservative in their political ideology. They have a less favorable view of Barack Obama than non-Mormons, and they hold more conservative views than the general public on issues such as the size of government, abortion and homosexuality. On questions of morality, Mormons are more likely than others to say that extramarital sex and drinking alcohol are morally wrong.

Ideology and Partisanship

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Two-thirds of Mormons (66%) call themselves conservative, about one-in-five (22%) say they are moderate and only about one-in-ten (8%) say they are liberal. The political ideology of Mormons closely resembles that of white evangelical Protestants (61% conservative, 27% moderate and 9% liberal), and both groups are far more conservative than other major religious groups and the public overall.

While majorities across a variety of Mormon subgroups describe themselves as conservative, the survey finds that Mormon men (73%) are more conservative than Mormon women (59%). Mormons in the West express higher levels of conservatism than those living outside the West (69% vs. 58%). And Mormons who exhibit the highest levels of religious commitment are substantially more conservative than those with lower levels of religious commitment (74% vs. 47%).

Roughly equal numbers of Mormons under age 50 and those age 50 and older describe themselves as politically conservative (68% and 62%, respectively). Among the general population, those under 50 are somewhat less conservative than those age 50 and older (33% vs. 41%).

Nearly three-in-four Mormon registered voters (74%) either identify as Republican (52%) or lean toward the Republican Party (22%). Far fewer (17%) identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. By comparison, the general public is much more evenly split between the two parties, with 45% of all registered voters favoring the GOP and 48% favoring the Democratic Party in Pew Research Center polls conducted September-November 2011. White evangelical Protestants (68% of whom identify with or lean toward the GOP) are the only other large religious group that rivals Mormons’ level of support for the Republican Party; white mainline Protestants, black Protestants, Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated are all far less Republican than are Mormons.

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Majority support for the Republican Party is seen across a variety of Mormon subgroups, but some groups are more unified than others in their support of the GOP. Mormon women, for instance, are less Republican (67%) and more Democratic (22%) than Mormon men (81% Republican vs. 12% Democratic). Mormons who live in the West are somewhat more Republican (77%) than Mormons from other regions of the country (66%). Mormons under the age of 50 are more strongly Republican (80%) than Mormons over 50 (68%). (By contrast, there is little difference in the partisanship of those under 50 and those age 50 and older in the general population.) And Mormons who exhibit the highest levels of religious commitment express more support for the GOP (78%) than Mormons with lower levels of religious commitment (63%).

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Roughly one-third (36%) of Mormon registered voters say they agree with the Tea Party movement, while 17% say they disagree and 47% express no opinion. Support for the Tea Party is higher among Mormons than among the public as a whole, which is largely attributable to Mormons’ high level of Republicanism. Mormon Republicans closely resemble Republicans as a whole in their views about the Tea Party, and Mormon Democrats closely resemble all Democrats in their attitudes about the movement. Mormons residing in the West express similar views about the Tea Party as Mormons residing outside the West.

Perceptions of Parties’ Friendliness Toward Mormonism

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Nearly four-in-ten Mormons (39%) say the Republican Party is friendly toward Mormonism and a similar number say the GOP is neutral toward Mormonism (41%). Far fewer (10%) say the Republican Party is unfriendly toward Mormonism. Compared with the GOP, the Democratic Party is seen as less friendly (17%) and more unfriendly (30%) toward Mormonism.

Predictably, Mormon Republicans are much more likely than Mormon Democrats to say the GOP is friendly toward Mormons. And Mormon Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say that the Democratic Party is friendly toward Mormonism. But while three times as many Mormon Republicans say the GOP is friendly toward Mormons as say this about the Democratic Party (45% vs. 14%), Mormon Democrats are equally likely to view the GOP and the Democratic Party as friendly toward Mormons (30% and 33%, respectively).

Views of Political Figures

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The survey, which was conducted from late October through mid-November 2011, asked respondents about their views of eight prominent political leaders, including five Republicans and three Democrats. Among the Republicans asked about, Mormons express overwhelmingly positive views of Mitt Romney, with 86% of registered voters saying they have a favorable view of Romney compared with only 10% who have an unfavorable view. Romney is viewed most favorably by Mormon Republicans (94%), but he also is seen in a positive light by Mormon Democrats (62% favorable). In fact, Mormon Democrats view Romney as favorably as do Republicans in the general population (56% favorable).

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. – another candidate for the GOP presidential nomination who is Mormon – is viewed favorably by half of Mormon registered voters (50%), while 24% view him unfavorably and 26% are unable to rate Huntsman or offer no opinion. Huntsman’s favorability ratings are higher among Mormons in the West (55%) than among those in other parts of the country (40%), where he is less familiar to Mormons (36% of those living outside the West are unable to rate Huntsman, compared with 22% of those residing in the West). Among Mormons residing in Utah, 70% express a favorable view of Huntsman and only 4% are unable to give him a rating.

Sarah Palin is rated favorably by half of Mormon voters, and Herman Cain – who was Romney’s main challenger for front-runner status at the time the survey was conducted – is rated favorably by 43% of Mormons. Of the Republicans asked about, Rick Perry received the most negative ratings from Mormons, with half (51%) viewing him unfavorably compared with 28% who view him favorably.

Barack Obama is viewed favorably by 25% of Mormon registered voters, while 72% say they have an unfavorable view of the president. Obama’s relatively low rating among Mormons (his favorability rating was 50% among the general public at the time the survey of Mormons was conducted) largely reflects the high rates of Republicanism among the Mormon population. Among Mormon Democrats, 78% give Obama a favorable rating, as do 84% of Democrats in the general population.

More Mormons have a favorable view of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (42%) than of Barack Obama. Mormon women are more favorably disposed toward Clinton than are Mormon men (48% favorable among women vs. 35% among men). Half of Mormon registered voters (51%) express an unfavorable view of Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, a Mormon who is the majority leader of the U.S. Senate; 22% of Mormons rate Reid favorably, while 27% have no opinion.

Size of Government

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Three-quarters of Mormons say they would prefer a smaller government providing fewer services (75%) over a bigger government that provides more services (20%). By comparison, opinions among the general public are more closely divided. About half of the general public (48%) supports a smaller government, while 41% want a bigger government. Mormon views on this issue closely match those of white evangelical Protestants.

Mormon men are more supportive of a smaller government than Mormon women (83% vs. 66%). And Mormons with the highest level of religious commitment are more inclined toward small government than those with lower levels of religious commitment (80% vs. 64%).

College graduates are most supportive of limited government (86%), followed by those with some college (76%) and then by those with a high school education or less (64%). There are no differences on this question among Mormons from different age cohorts.

Immigration

Mormons are divided on the question of whether immigrants strengthen the U.S. because of their hard work and talents (45%) or burden the country by taking American jobs, housing and health care (41%). On this issue, the views of Mormons line up very closely with the views of the general public (45% strengthen, 44% burden). Mormons are much more likely than evangelical Protestants to say that immigrants strengthen rather than burden the United States (45% vs. 27% among white evangelicals).

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Compared with Mormons over 50, younger Mormons are more likely to view immigrants as an asset to the country (49% vs. 39%). Mormon Republicans are evenly divided on this question (42% strengthen, 44% burden), but Mormon Democrats who say immigrants strengthen the country clearly outnumber those who say immigrants are a burden (59% vs. 36%). Roughly half of Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment say immigrants strengthen the country (48%), compared with 38% among Mormons with lower levels of religious commitment.

Homosexuality

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Roughly two-thirds of Mormons (65%) say that homosexuality should be discouraged by society, while less than half as many (26%) say that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Mormon attitudes toward homosexuality closely resemble the views expressed by white evangelical Protestants, and are substantially more conservative than the views expressed by other large religious groups and the public as a whole.

Mormons with high levels of religious commitment express the greatest opposition toward homosexuality, with 77% saying it should be discouraged and 15% saying it should be accepted by society. Among those in the survey with lower levels of religious commitment, opinion leans in the other direction (51% say it should be accepted, 39% say it should be discouraged). A similar division exists between Mormon Republicans and Democrats, with a large majority of Republicans saying homosexuality should be discouraged (74%) and the balance of opinion among Democrats in the survey leaning toward acceptance (52%).

Mormons with a high school education or less are more accepting of homosexuality (34%) than are those with some college (22%) and those with college degrees (21%). There is no clear pattern in views of homosexuality by age.

Other Moral Issues

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Mormons take conservative positions on the morality of various behaviors, including having sex outside of marriage (which 79% say is morally wrong), having an abortion (74% morally wrong) and drinking alcohol (54% morally wrong). The view that these activities are morally wrong is far more common among Mormons than among the general public.

A similar number of Mormons and white evangelical Protestants say that having an abortion is morally wrong (74% among each group). Mormons are significantly more likely than evangelicals to say that sex outside of marriage is wrong (79% vs. 61%) and that drinking alcohol is morally wrong (54% vs. 22%). Nearly half of Mormons (46%) say that divorce is not a moral issue, while 25% say it is morally wrong and 16% say it is morally acceptable. The 25% of Mormons who say divorce is morally wrong is similar to the 29% seen among the general population. White evangelicals are much more likely than Mormons to say that divorce is morally wrong (45% vs. 25%).

Nearly nine-in-ten Mormons (86%) say that polygamy is morally wrong. Roughly one-in-ten (11%) say that polygamy is not a moral issue and 2% say that polygamy is morally acceptable.

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More Mormon women than men say that drinking alcohol is morally wrong (59% vs. 48%). Men, on the other hand, see divorce as more morally problematic than women do (30% vs. 20%). Differences between the sexes are negligible on other moral issues.

Mormons with the highest levels of religious commitment consistently express more morally stringent views than those with lower levels of commitment. This includes the question of polygamy, which is seen as morally wrong by 88% of those with high religious commitment and 79% of those with lower levels of commitment. On most issues, Republicans are more strict than Democrats. The exception is polygamy, which is viewed as morally problematic by equally large majorities of both groups (86% of Republicans, 87% of Democrats).

Compared with Mormon college graduates, those with a high school education or less are more likely to say that divorce is morally wrong (30% vs. 20%). A similar pattern is seen in attitudes about polygamy, which is viewed as morally wrong by 90% of Mormons with a high school education or less compared with 81% of college graduates. One-in-six college graduates (16%) says that polygamy is not a moral issue, though very few say it is morally acceptable (1%). On the question of extramarital sex, however, Mormons with a high school education or less are more permissive than college graduates (66% morally wrong vs. 89% among college graduates).

Photo Credit: © Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis