January 12, 2012

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

Preface

The idea for this survey arose in the early summer of 2011, around the time that a Newsweek cover story and a New York Times article declared that the United States was experiencing a “Mormon moment.” As evidence of the rising profile of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) – as the Mormon Church is formally known – Newsweek cited not only the presidential aspirations of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. but also the best-selling Twilight vampire novels by Mormon author Stephenie Meyer; the radio show of Mormon convert Glenn Beck; the finale of the HBO television series “Big Love”; and the hit Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.” “But despite the sudden proliferation of Mormons in the mainstream, Mormonism itself isn’t any closer to gaining mainstream acceptance,” the Newsweek article stated.

That got us thinking. Over the years, numerous polls have gauged public attitudes toward Mormons, who make up about 2% of all U.S. adults.1 But what do Mormons themselves think about their place in American life? With the rising prominence of members of the LDS Church in politics, popular culture and the media, do Mormons feel more secure and accepted in American society? What do they think of other religions? What do they believe, how do they practice their faith and what do they see as essential to being a good Mormon and to leading a good life?

To answer such questions, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life decided to conduct a nationally representative survey focused exclusively on Mormons, the first ever published by a non-LDS research organization. As a first step, we researched the sociological literature on Mormons and recruited a panel of expert advisers, including Matthew Bowman of Hampden-Sydney College, David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame, Marie Cornwall of Brigham Young University, Terryl Givens of the University of Richmond and Allison Pond of the Deseret News. John Green of the University of Akron, a longstanding Pew Forum research adviser, also offered very helpful guidance.

With their help, the Pew Forum’s staff designed an approximately 25-minute questionnaire in August and September 2011. Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa., pre-tested the questionnaire with two small samples of Mormons in October and then fielded it by telephone (both cell phones and landlines) between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011.

Readers should note that the survey focuses on those who currently identify themselves as Mormon when asked about their religion. This means that people who were raised in the LDS Church but who no longer consider themselves as members of it are not likely to be among the respondents.

While this survey comes amid a contentious election campaign, it is not solely or even chiefly about politics. Rather, we hope that it will contribute to a broader public understanding of Mormons and Mormonism at a time of great interest in both, and we see it as part of the Pew Forum’s continuing efforts to explore the intersection of religion and public life in the United States and around the world.

Luis Lugo, Director
Alan Cooperman, Associate Director, Research


Footnotes

1 See, for example, the Pew Research Center’s November 2011 report, Romney’s Mormon Faith Likely a Factor in Primaries, Not in a General Election, and September 2007 report, Public Expresses Mixed Views of Islam, Mormonism. (return to text)

Photo Credit: © Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis