A new comprehensive survey by the Pew Research Center’s
Forum on Religion & Public Life examines Mormons’ beliefs and practices,
political ideology, and attitudes toward their faith, family life, the media
and society. In a conference call with journalists, the Forum’s staff discussed the findings of Mormons
in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society. The survey was conducted between
Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011, among a national sample of 1,019 respondents who
currently describe their religion as “Mormon.” It is the first nationally representative
survey of Mormons ever undertaken by a non-LDS research organization.
Listen to the audio
Greg Smith, Senior
Researcher, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
David Campbell, Associate
Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Matthew Bowman, Visiting
Assistant Professor of Religion, Hampden-Sydney College
Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Navigate This Transcript:
Not in the Mainstream But Gaining Acceptance
High Level of Religious Commitment
Ideologically Conservative and Republican
Moderate Views Toward Immigration
Younger Mormons More Politically Conservative
A Community Within the American Community
Missionary Experience Affecting Attitudes
Parallels With the Muslim Experience
The “Cult” Word
OPERATOR: Hello and thank you for joining us today for
the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life’s Q&A session
on the findings from a new survey, Mormons
in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society.
Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life,
will moderate the discussion, and Greg Smith, the Pew Forum’s senior researcher
and lead author of this survey, will present the findings. They are joined by
two members of the survey’s advisory board — David Campbell, associate
professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre
Dame, and Matt Bowman, visiting assistant professor of religion at
Hampden-Sydney College. We will go to the question and answer portion after
brief remarks from our speakers.
Please note this call is being
recorded and I’ll be standing by should you need any assistance. It is now my
pleasure to turn the conference over to Mr. Luis Lugo. Please go ahead, sir.
LUIS LUGO, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION
&PUBLIC LIFE: Thank you. Good
morning to all of you, and thank you for joining us today to discuss the
findings of our national survey of Mormons. As far as we know, this is the
first survey of its kind ever published by a non-LDS research organization. I’m
Luis Lugo, as was mentioned; I’m the director of the Pew Forum on Religion &
Public Life. As many of you know, we are a project of the Pew Research Center, which is a nonpartisan
organization that does not take positions on issues or policy debates.
The idea for this survey came about
this past summer when some articles in prominent media outlets declared that
the U.S. was experiencing a “Mormon moment.” Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman had
made clear their presidential aspirations. Mormon author, Stephenie Meyer, was
in the spotlight for her bestselling “Twilight” vampire novels. And the hit
musical “The Book of Mormon” was playing on Broadway.
A Newsweek article stated that despite
the sudden proliferation of Mormons in the mainstream, Mormonism itself wasn’t
gaining any mainstream acceptance. Indeed, in a survey
we conducted this past November, half of Americans told us that they know very
little or nothing about Mormonism. And as you folks well know, we’re not a
country of particularly tough graders. The same survey found that one-third of
U.S. adults say the Mormon faith is not a Christian religion, and another fifth
or so say that they are unsure whether Mormonism is Christian. In an open-ended
question, we asked what one word best describes the Mormon religion. The most
commonly offered response: cult.
So we know something about what the
general public knows and thinks about Mormons, 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? And what exactly are their religious
beliefs and practices? This new survey seeks to answer these questions and
Please note that in this survey
we’ve defined Mormons in the same way that we define other religious groups in
all our surveys, that is, through self-identification. So this survey covers
people who currently describe themselves religiously as Mormon. This means that
people who might think of themselves, say, as ethnic Mormons but not Mormons in
a religious sense may not necessarily be captured in this survey.
While this survey comes in the midst
of an election campaign, it is not primarily about politics. Rather, we hope
that it will contribute to a broader public understanding of Mormons and
Mormonism in American society. We see this quite simply as part of the Pew Forum’s
continuing efforts to generate and widely disseminate information about
important issues at the intersection of religion and public life in the U.S.
and around the world.
As was mentioned, we’re pleased to
have on the conference call with us two outside experts who served on our
advisory board for this survey, Matt Bowman of Hampden-Sydney College and David
Campbell of the University of Notre Dame. Matt and Dave will share what they
find most interesting about the survey and also will be available to answer
your questions. Please note, though, these folks do not speak for the Pew
Forum, so we’d ask that you identify them in terms of their academic
affiliation. I’m sure their institutions’ communications departments would
appreciate that as well.
Now I’d like to turn things over to
Pew Forum senior researcher Greg Smith, who is the lead author of this report
and who will briefly discuss the findings. Thanks again to everyone for joining
us. Greg, over to you.
GREG SMITH, PEW
FORUM ON RELIGION &PUBLIC LIFE: Thank
you, Luis. As Luis mentioned, one of the key questions we aimed to explore with
this survey was: How are Mormons in the U.S. experiencing and responding to
moment” that we seem to be in? What the survey finds is a mixed picture. On
the one hand, many Mormons tell us that they feel misunderstood, discriminated
against and like they’re not accepted by other Americans as part of mainstream
society. You can see this in responses to a number of the survey’s questions.
For example, when asked how much the
American people as a whole know about the Mormon religion and its practices, six-in-ten
Mormons say that the American public knows little or nothing about Mormonism. When
asked to describe in their own words the most important problems facing Mormons
living in the United States today, a majority mentioned things like
misconceptions about Mormonism, that Mormons are not seen as Christian, or that
Mormonism is still associated with polygamy or seen as a cult. And fully two-thirds
of Mormons tell us they think that the American people as a whole do not think
of Mormonism as part of mainstream American society. Clearly then, this is a
population that in many ways still sees itself as being on the periphery of
American society and looking in.
On the other hand, however, the
survey also shows that in many ways Mormons are happy with their own lives and
see acceptance of Mormonism as on the increase. There are indications that they
view themselves as a group that’s on the way up, you might say. For example,
even though most Mormons don’t think Mormonism is currently seen as mainstream
by the American people, most Mormons do think that the public is becoming more
likely to see Mormonism as mainstream. The survey also shows that nearly nine-in-ten
Mormons say they are satisfied with the way things are going in their own
lives, and a similar number rate their communities as excellent or good places
to live. These numbers exceed what we see among the public as a whole.
And in response to what I personally
think is one of the most interesting questions in the study, the majority of
Mormons we spoke with say they think that the American people as a whole are
ready to elect a Mormon as president. Now, I should point out that while it’s
impossible to know for sure precisely what mix of considerations might underlay
the findings on this question, we tend to think of it more as an indicator of
Mormons’ attitudes about their acceptance and incorporation into American
society, rather than as a concrete political prediction. The question came
right after those I mentioned previously about acceptance of Mormonism, and it
was separated from more explicitly political questions, like views of the
presidential candidates, political partisanship and the like.
So when it comes to their views of
their place in American society, we see a mixed picture. This is certainly a
population that is acutely aware of the reservations that many Americans have
about Mormonism. But it’s also one that’s comprised of people that are largely
satisfied with their own lives and that perceives itself as increasingly seen
as part of the mainstream.
Another area that the survey
explores in some depth is religious
beliefs and practices. In what ways do Mormons resemble the broader public,
religiously speaking, and in what ways are they distinctive? The survey finds
areas of commonality between Mormons and traditional Christianity. Nearly all
Mormons, for instance, say they believe in the Resurrection, that Jesus rose
from the dead. And nearly all Mormons assert that the Mormon religion is, in
fact, a Christian religion.
Another finding that leaps out of
these data is that Mormons have very high levels of religious commitment. Three-quarters
tell us that they attend religious services on a weekly basis. And upwards of
eight-in-ten tell us that they pray every day and that religion is very
important to them in their own lives.
Combining these questions, we find
that roughly seven-in-ten Mormons exhibit high levels of religious commitment
in that they possess all three attributes: they say they attend church at least
once a week, and they say they pray every day, and they say religion is very
important in their lives. By comparison, among the public as a whole, less than
half as many display high levels of religious commitment.
I should take this opportunity,
while discussing their uniquely high level of religious commitment, to
reiterate what Luis mentioned and provide a reminder about just who is in our
current sample and who is not. Our survey covers people who currently describe
their religious identity as Mormonism. It does not cover former Mormons. It
does not cover people who might think of themselves as Mormons but solely in
ethnic terms or because of their family background.
We would expect that an alternative
survey with a sampling frame drawn, say, from church membership lists, which
might include both active and inactive members, might well generate different
results than the current approach. I say this, again, just to reiterate that
it’s important to keep in mind just who we’ve surveyed here, which are people
who currently think of themselves, religiously speaking, as Mormons. In any
event, the approach we’ve adopted here is just the same one that we used to
define other religious groups in our surveys, which is to say through
self-identification. And the high degree of religious commitment displayed by
this community is striking.
Getting back to the topic at hand,
the survey confirms that Mormons are a highly religiously committed group with
important commonalities with traditional Christianity. But it also shows that
Mormons are united in affirming a number of tenets that are central to the
teachings of the LDS Church and that are distinct from traditional Christianity.
For example, nine-in-ten Mormons say they believe that the president of the LDS
Church is a prophet of God. Nearly all believe that families can be bound
together eternally in temple ceremonies. And nearly all believe that God the
Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings.
Turning from religion to politics,
the survey confirms that Mormons are a highly conservative and Republican
constituency. Two-thirds of Mormons describe their political ideology as
conservative, which is far higher than the number saying the same among the
general public. And nearly three-quarters of Mormon registered voters describe
themselves as Republicans or say they lean toward the Republican Party, again a
rate of affinity for the GOP far exceeding that seen among the public as a
The survey also shows that Mormons
have a highly positive view of Mitt Romney. Even Mormon Democrats view Romney
in a positive light. In fact, his favorability rating is as high among Mormon
Democrats as it is among Republicans in the general public. By comparison with
Romney, Jon Huntsman is viewed somewhat less favorably by Mormons, with
one-quarter of Mormon voters unable to rate Huntsman at all. Huntsman does,
however, have a strong 70 percent favorability rating in Utah, where he used to
be the governor and where he is much better known than he is nationally.
Finally, to conclude these remarks,
I’d like to say just a word or two about what the survey says about the
relationship between Mormons and evangelicals in the United States — two groups
whose relationship with one another has increasingly come under the microscope.
The survey confirms that these are two groups that have a fair amount in common
with each other politically speaking, in that large numbers in both groups are
ideologically conservative and Republican in their partisan leanings. In some
ways, Mormons and evangelicals also resemble each other and stand out from the
broader public in their religious characteristics, in that majorities in both
groups exhibit high levels of religious commitment.
Yet Mormons perceive that there’s a
significant degree of hostility directed toward them from evangelical
Christians. Fully half of those surveyed say that evangelical Christians are
generally unfriendly toward Mormons. And this perceived hostility we think
reflects findings from other Pew polls that show that evangelicals express
reservations about Mormonism. Roughly half of white evangelical Protestants say
that Mormonism is not a Christian religion. And two-thirds say that Mormonism
and their own religion are really pretty different from one another. So the
tension between these groups is significant, it’s real, and it’s certainly
firmly on the radar screen of the Mormons that we spoke with in doing this
I hope these remarks provide a basic
sense of some of the highlights and the main themes that emerge from the survey.
I’ll now turn the floor back over to Luis, and I look forward to responding to
LUGO: Thank you, Greg. David Campbell from the University
of Notre Dame, if I could ask you for your comments next, please.
DAVID CAMPBELL, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE
DAME: Sure. What I thought I would do is
highlight a few things that I think are notable from the study, and I’d like to
begin with a political question. Greg, I think, accurately characterized the
Mormon population as being highly conservative, strongly Republican, and that
will not come as a surprise to anyone. But what might be a little surprising is
the fact that on at least one issue Mormons actually would not be ranked among
the most conservative in the country, and that is immigration.
Mormons are actually far more
positive toward immigrants than are evangelicals, another highly conservative
group. And they’re quite a bit more positive toward immigrants than are
mainline Protestants, white Catholics and black Protestants. So, in other
words, on one of the most hot-button issues in politics today, especially among
conservatives, Mormons are actually quite moderate, I would say. The average
Mormon opinion of immigrants looks just like the rest of the general public,
which, again, is remarkable given the general political conservatism that we
find within Mormonism.
There are undoubtedly a variety of
reasons for that. The LDS Church itself is actually quite moderate — you might
even say, a voice of compassion — on the question of immigration. And of
course, many Mormons serve as missionaries abroad, where they learn a foreign
language and they spend up to two years with people of another culture, and
that undoubtedly leads to a greater appreciation for immigrants here in the
United States. So that’s one thing that I thought was remarkable.
Another, also sticking with
politics, is that if you look at the age breakdown of Mormons and who describe
themselves as political conservatives, we find among Mormons a trend that is
exactly the opposite of what you find in the general population. In general,
younger people are more likely to refer to themselves as liberal or less likely
to call themselves conservative than are older people, and that shouldn’t come
as a surprise to anyone.
But among Mormons, it’s exactly the
opposite, actually. It’s the younger Mormons who are more likely to describe
themselves as conservative than are older Mormons, and that’s likely because
these older Mormons came of age, at least politically, in an era when there was
greater political diversity among Mormons. The almost monolithic Republicanism
among Mormons is a relatively recent innovation over roughly the last
generation or so, so say 25 or 30 years. But prior to that, you found much more
partisan diversity among Mormons, and that’s reflected in the survey.
Let me just comment on a few other
things that I thought were interesting. Another contrast between Mormons and
what you find in the general population — among Mormons, you find that greater
education, and that is, a greater level of education, corresponds to greater — maybe
orthodoxy is the way to describe it — greater adherence to the beliefs of
Mormonism. Now in other religious groups, more education correlates with more religious
attendance and religious behavior. So it’s a misnomer that in America religion
is only for the working class or for the poor. That’s actually not true. In
general, churchgoing is a very middle-class activity in the United States.
But among other religious groups,
highly educated people, while they might be participatory in their religion,
don’t necessarily hold to orthodox beliefs within their faith. That’s not the
case with Mormons. The more education Mormons have, the more likely they are to
say that they believe wholeheartedly in everything within Mormonism, and then
the more likely they are to subscribe to the particular tenets of the faith.
Let me close my remarks with just
one further observation that I thought was interesting and that relates to
something I mentioned earlier, the missionary service that so many Mormons
engage in. We find in the survey that missionary service, that is, people who
have served as full-time missionaries for the LDS Church, actually correlates
with thinking that other religions are similar to Mormonism. So it seems as
though serving as a missionary for the church, where your objective is to
convert others to Mormonism, appears to foster a greater appreciation for other
religions or, at the very least, fosters an appreciation for what Mormonism has
in common with other religions, which is interesting because you might have
thought it would actually go the other way, that serving as a missionary would
only serve to accentuate the differences between Mormonism and other religions.
But it doesn’t seem to pan out that way.
I’ll conclude my thoughts there, but
I’m happy to answer other questions as the conversation proceeds.
LUGO: Terrific. Very interesting, David. Thank you
so much. Now, from Virginia’s beautiful Southside District, Matt Bowman from
MATTHEW BOWMAN, HAMPDEN-SYDNEY COLLEGE: Hi there. Thank you. I would like to build off
something that Dave just said, particularly with reference to immigration. He
mentioned that it’s quite possible that Mormons are moderate on immigration
because this is their church’s position, and because the church itself is
transnational in a lot of ways, and because many Mormons interact with
immigrants as well. I think this points to something that I think the survey
illustrates quite well, which is many Mormons’ ambivalence towards their
position in American society. On one hand, they feel a strong desire to
participate in American society; on one hand, they are satisfied with their
lives in America — 56 percent think that America is ready for a Mormon
But at the same time, there’s also a powerful sense that the Mormons
are what the former president of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, used to call “a
peculiar people,” quoting the Bible. That is, 68 percent of Mormons believe
Americans don’t think that Mormons are part of mainstream culture. Nearly half
feel that they suffer discrimination in American society, and nearly six-in-ten
say that most or all of their close friends are Mormon. So there is then this
strong sense of themselves as a community, as a people who are different from
the society around them, while at the same time wanting to participate in that
I’d also like to point to one other factor that I think illustrates
this in an interesting way. One of the survey questions asked Mormons to
comment on what they thought was essential to being a good Mormon. Many of the
factors here were traditional boundary markers of behavior, things like the
Word of Wisdom, which prohibits Mormons from consuming alcohol, tea, coffee or
tobacco, or not watching R-rated movies. Many Mormons did affirm those. But 73
percent of Mormons said that feeding the poor, that helping the poor, was
essential to being a good Mormon.
At the same time, however, 75 percent believe that America needs a
smaller government with fewer social services. Now this would seem to be
initially in disjunction, one with another. But I think it points actually to
the church’s powerful, powerful sense of itself as a community. There is a very
strong welfare system active in the church. Many Mormons participate in this
welfare system to take care of their own, to take care of other people in their
I think, then, that this illustrates one way in which Mormons are kind
of a community within the broader American community. They have both of these
identities — their identity as a Mormon, as a member of their church, but also
in American culture more broadly. I think this survey does a great deal to
illustrate this tension between the two. I will be happy to take questions on
that as well.
LUGO: Thank you so much. Again,
as a reminder, please identify both David and Matt with their respective institutions
rather than the Pew Forum — unless, of course, the reference is to them having
served as advisers on this survey, and then we’re happy to own them. I should
mention that we also have with us — though struggling with a bad cold — Alan
Cooperman, the Pew Forum’s associate director for research, who worked closely
with Greg on this report and who will also participate in the Q&A.
Again, if you want to direct your questions specifically to either Matt
or David, please indicate that so that we can direct those to them. But I’m
sure we’ll get them into the discussion in any case because I have some
questions for them, particularly on candidate Romney and immigration questions
and so forth. But there is a lot of good stuff there to chew on.
But you’ve been very patient. There are a lot of you on this conference
call, which we appreciate — our friends from the media — so let’s get directly
to your questions.
MITCHELL LANSBERG, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yes, hi. This is a question for David. You
talked about the support for immigration, and you speculated that the
missionary experience might have something to do with that. Did the survey
actually indicate that Mormons who had been missionaries were more likely to
CAMPBELL: I’m just actually
looking at the report —
LUGO: David, we have our team
here too of numbers-crunchers, so we’ll — I’m not sure that particular point
was made in the report, but we certainly have that data and we’ll —
SMITH: I’m just looking at it
now. The question we asked about immigration is this: Which statement comes
closer to your own views, even if neither is exactly right? Would you say
immigrants mostly strengthen our country because of their hard work and talent,
or would you say that immigrants are a burden on the country because they take
American jobs, housing and health care?
What we find is that there is a significant link there between having
served a mission and views on this question. Among Mormons who had served a mission,
56 percent say that immigrants strengthen our country. That is significantly
higher than what we see among those who have not served a mission, among whom
41 percent say that immigrants strengthen our country. So there does appear to
be a significant link between missionary experience and attitudes toward
LUGO: David, please add to that.
CAMPBELL: The addition I would
make is that you see in the data that having served as a missionary does seem
to have a relationship to the way you perceive immigrants. But I would suggest
that the pervasiveness of missionary service within the LDS Church and within
the Mormon culture is such that you probably don’t even have to have served a
mission yourself to have this appreciation.
It’s very common in Mormon congregations if a missionary has served
abroad, particularly in a more exotic place, to come back and speak about it,
show slides and pictures, and give presentations to youth groups. Many Mormon
families speak at great length about family members of theirs who have served
for two years in Portugal or in Japan or in Mexico or wherever else. It’s a
community that I think is very cosmopolitan, or at least aware of international
culture, because of this high level of missionary service. So it’s not just
that individuals themselves have served, but also that you’re sort of in this
culture where the service is quite common and commonly referred to.
SMITH: Just to add to that and
reiterate, the data are certainly consistent with that. We see that there is a
link, for example, between level of religious commitment and attitudes toward
immigration, with people who have the highest levels of commitment also the
most favorably disposed toward immigrants. So that would certainly be
consistent with David’s comments, given that it’s the most highly religiously
committed people who are probably most likely to be surrounded by and in
conversation with people with missionary experience, regardless of whether or
not they themselves have served.
LUGO: But to add just a little
bit on that, isn’t it also the case, though, Greg, just to look at this from
another dimension, that those Mormons who had served a mission also indicated a
higher degree of hostility from evangelicals? Or am I making that up?
SMITH: I think that’s right. Let’s
see here; yes, those people who had served a mission are more likely than those
who have not to say that evangelicals are mostly unfriendly toward the Mormon
religion. And that seems to be specific to attitudes toward evangelicalism
because we don’t see the same kind of linkage with respect to missionary status
and opinions as to whether or not people who are not religious are friendly
toward Mormons. That’s right.
LUGO: And David mentioned
generally more openness on the part of those who had served a mission, but
there is the evangelical exception here, which I think is also quite
interesting and bears repeating.
RICHARD ALLEN GREENE, CNN: I
guess my question is primarily for Dave and for Luis. I was struck, reading the
report, on the degree to which I think you could substitute the word Muslim for
Mormon through a lot of this report in the sense in which you’ve got a small
minority community, they don’t feel particularly accepted, but they are still
comfortable in the country and they feel they are gaining more acceptance.
And Dave, it put me in mind of “American
Grace,” in the sense that this is a particular example of a much broader
American experience. You’re not going to get the Muslims, obviously, saying
they’re overwhelmingly Republican. But on the broad picture about acceptance
and belief and belonging and community, how much is the Mormon experience
simply a particular example of the American religious experience?
LUGO: Fascinating question,
Richard; thank you. David, why don’t you go first, and then I will ask our
folks here to weigh in? We have done two major surveys
of Muslims in the U.S., and so there are some interesting comparisons to be
CAMPBELL: Well, thank you very
much for the reference to “American Grace.” For those who may not know what
he’s referring to, that’s a book I published with Bob Putnam of Harvard about a
year ago. In that book we asked the question of how America can be religiously
devout as a country, religiously diverse and also religiously tolerant. Most
Americans are quite comfortable with people of other religions, but there are
some exceptions. One is the Muslim community and another is the Mormon
community, although they’re not the only two exceptions; there are others. We
find that, for example, Buddhists are also not viewed necessarily very
positively by the American public.
All three of those groups — and undoubtedly there are others as well — share
characteristics, like they’re relatively small, they’re relatively insular, and
most importantly, they’re not well-known to other Americans. And so, in the
broad contours I would say, yes, there is a parallel between the Mormon
experience in America and the Muslim experience and the experience of other
small and distinctive religious groups — the Sikhs come to mind, for example.
But I think when you get into the specifics, there are some unique
features of Mormonism that undoubtedly frustrate many members of the LDS Church
as to why they don’t have greater acceptance. This is, after all, a religion
that was born in America; it’s a religion that’s been in the United States for
a long time. And numerically, there are a reasonably large number of Mormons — there
are about as many Mormons in America as there are Jews, and yet Mormons still
feel that they are not fully accepted by the mainstream of America.
I think that that speaks to the distinctiveness of Mormonism. But I
wouldn’t want to make too much of the Mormon-Muslim connection, just because,
while they, as I said, are consistent in some of the broad contours, there are
some unique features of Mormonism that I think are particularly telling. I’ll
leave it at that.
SMITH: Just picking up on what
David said, I certainly agree that I think that there are some important differences
between the Muslim community and the Mormon community. Muslims, we know from
our surveys, are primarily an immigrant population; Mormons are not. Muslims
are primarily composed of racial and ethnic minorities; Mormons are not. Mormonism
has its roots in the United States; Islam does not. So there are these
important differences. And, Richard, you mentioned some of the political
differences between the two groups, which are also very real and very large.
But what I was struck by sounds like very much what you were struck by,
Richard, in the sense that despite these differences, we do see a remarkable
degree of similarity in terms of their perceptions of what it’s like to be part
of their group in American society. Muslims, very much like Mormons, are under
no illusions, in the sense that they recognize that it’s an uphill battle, so
to speak, to gain acceptance; that they’re often discriminated against; that they
think people largely don’t understand their faith; that their treatment by the
media isn’t always fair. We see the same kinds of things among Mormons.
But again, despite this, members of both groups overall express high
levels of satisfaction with their lives in the United States and express a high
degree of optimism. So I think that there are some important similarities
there, despite some very real differences in terms of their characteristics and
their history in the United States.
LUGO: Yeah, that’s a very nice
way to put it in terms of the challenges, but also the fact that both groups
are relentlessly positive about the U.S. and their future in it.
BILL TAMMEUS, THE KANSAS CITY STAR: I have a quick clarifying question and then a
real question. It looked to me as though you allowed people who are members of
the Community of Christ, which used to be the reorganized Latter-day Saints Church
based here in the Kansas City area, to be part of this, but it looks to me as
though nobody participated from the Community of Christ. I wonder if you’d
And then let me go ahead and ask the question. It’s a question about
the bias against Mormons. Were you able, or were Mormons themselves able, to
determine whether this stems primarily from ignorance, or is it a case of
theological familiarity breeding contempt?
SMITH: To answer the first
question, anyone who describes their religion as Mormonism is eligible for this
survey. The question that we asked people is: What is your present religion, if
TAMMEUS: I’m looking at what was
given there, which told me nobody participated.
SMITH: Well, that’s right. We
asked: Are you Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim,
Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else or nothing in particular? Anybody
who answered that question by describing themselves as Mormon was eligible to
participate in our survey. Now, subsequent to that question we asked a
follow-up, which was: And is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, the Community of Christ or some other Mormon church?
In practice, upwards of 99 percent of all of the self-identified
Mormons confirmed that they are part of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, as opposed to some other church. So on the one hand, yes,
the survey was open to Mormons who might not consider themselves part of the
LDS, but in practice, hardly any of them actually participated.
With respect to the second question, maybe I’ll say just a couple words
and then see if David and Matt have some additional thoughts. It’s an
interesting question. I don’t think the data suggests that Mormons think this
is contempt bred of familiarity, in the sense that six-in-ten Mormons tell us
that they think most people know little or nothing about Mormonism. So I don’t
think there’s any evidence there to suggest that Mormons feel like their faith
is understood and disliked nonetheless.
With that said, I think you also see in response to other questions
that regardless of how much Americans may actually know, factually speaking,
about Mormonism, there certainly is the realization on the part of Mormons that
many Americans have conceptions, have ideas, about Mormonism that may or may
not be accurate and that in many cases are negative. We have lots of Mormons
telling us that they feel like most people don’t view them as Christian; that
they feel like people view their faith as a cult; that they feel like they’re
too often associated with polygamy. So it’s not so much that there’s a feeling
that it’s familiarity that’s breeding these things, but maybe there are
significant misconceptions that are associated with them.
LUGO: Yeah, that’s helpful. Let
me actually ask Matt to jump in here because I’m much taken with the sort of
tension between remaining a peculiar people, sort of internally coherent and
solidified, versus joining the mainstream. I mean, this question is not
unrelated to that. Do you find, Matt, historically, that that’s part of the
hesitation on the part of some Mormons in terms of joining the mainstream, that
familiarity could breed more contempt towards Mormons?
BOWMAN: Sure and I will address
that. But another point I think that’s worth making about the Community of
Christ is that the word “Mormon” is a contested term, and many members of the
Community of Christ would not use that to describe themselves. So it is
possible that that screened out some of them.
As to the theological question, I think there is an extent to which
many Mormons would feel that beliefs which seem normal and compatible with
being American, like, say, having a prophet or being in a relatively
authoritarian church, are things that other Americans find un-American and
difficult. We’ve seen a lot of comparison recently between John F. Kennedy and
Mitt Romney, and it strikes me that much of the criticism that Mormons feel
directed at them today is similar to that which was directed at Catholics 50
years ago. That is, they belong to an authoritarian church; they are not really
Christian; their church is ritualistic and strange, not individualistic like
American Protestantism is.
But Mormons would not reject those things; Mormons feel that their
priesthood hierarchy and all the rest are not incompatible with being a member
of American society as well. So there is, on the part of many Mormons, great
confusion about why exactly they are distrusted so much.
ALEX ROARTY, NATIONAL JOURNAL: I
was just wondering if you guys in the survey had come up with a figure in terms
of the evangelical Protestants — I mean, if you asked how many of them would be
comfortable with Mitt Romney as president, or whether or not they would vote
for a Mormon as president. Did that come up at all?
LUGO: Thank you, Alex. We did,
in fact, probe that question, not in this particular survey, which was just of
Mormons, but in the survey we did not too long ago. So maybe, Greg, you’d like
to address that.
SMITH: Sure. The most recent
research we’ve conducted on that question comes from a poll
that we conducted in November. And it was really interesting. What we found
there is that Romney’s Mormonism may well pose a stumbling block, or may well prove
problematic, in the campaign for the Republican nomination. And what we find is
that evangelicals are the group among which he faces the biggest uphill battle.
Romney, at that time, was not the favored candidate of evangelical
voters in the GOP. And even though most of the people that we spoke with said
that Romney’s religion wouldn’t make them any more or less likely to vote for
him, the number saying that his religion would
make them less likely to vote for him was a little bit higher among
evangelicals in the GOP.
So there is this real evidence that Romney’s Mormonism could be a
factor in the nomination campaign. However, the same survey also showed that
evangelicals, the same people who might be most concerned about Mormonism and
about Romney’s religion, are the same people who are most strongly opposed to
Barack Obama and most strongly committed and desirous of seeing a new
administration come a year from now.
What we see in the survey is that if he secures the nomination,
Romney’s advantage among evangelicals over Obama is just as large as it would
be for any other Republican candidate. So while it may be a stumbling block in
the nomination campaign, it doesn’t look like it would have any impact on his
support among core GOP constituencies in a general election.
LUGO: Yeah, and it underscores
what you had said previously, Greg, namely, that there are theological
differences and those are magnified when the context is a fight within the
Republican Party. Once you move it to a larger context, where the fight is
between Republicans and Democrats, and Barack Obama more specifically, then the
political inclination and the ideology really surface. So any reservations
about Mormonism are going to be trumped by their intense dislike of Barack
Obama. I think it’s getting a sense of that tension within evangelicals
themselves. Within the Republican Party, that’s one thing; once we get to the
general election, that’s a whole different ballgame.
NAOMI RILEY, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I was wondering if anything in your survey
would allow us to make a distinction between personal animosity that individual
Mormons are experiencing from the doctrinal suspicion that we’ve been talking
about. One thing that leads me to ask that question is you said the majority of
Mormons — the vast majority — seemed very happy with their own communities. I
don’t know whether they mean by community their own religious community or
their own larger community. But if they mean their own larger community, I
wonder if on a personal basis, they are not experiencing any kind of individual
animosity and it’s really a broader feeling that they’re getting from the
country as a whole.
LUGO: That’s a very good
question, Naomi. In fact, remember in the Muslim survey we found that a much
smaller percentage of Muslims told us they personally had experienced
discrimination than those who said that Muslims in general are experiencing
discrimination. I think this question is along those lines.
SMITH: I’ll say just a couple
words, and then maybe we can see if Dave or Matt have anything to add. It’s an
interesting question. We don’t have questions on this survey that ask Mormons
whether or not they personally have experienced various types of
discrimination. Rather, most of the questions that we have ask them about
challenges that Mormons in general may or may not face.
Part of the reason for that is simply space. We were limited for time
in the survey. But there’s also another reason, which is to say that unlike
Muslims, Mormons tend to be more geographically concentrated. In fact — we can
talk more about this; this is probably too inside baseball — that actually made
this survey a little bit easier to conduct than, say, the Muslim American
survey because it’s more apparent as to where to conduct interviews if you want
to find Mormon respondents.
So since they tend to live in areas — which isn’t true of all Mormons —
but since there’s a tendency to live in areas with more Mormons, the questions
about personal experiences with discrimination seem like they might be a little
bit less relevant for that community. However, the data are suggestive in this
respect: The question that we asked about satisfaction with your community
really was about your geographic community. How satisfied are you with your
community as a place to live?
It occurred very early in the survey before it was apparent that this
was a survey of Mormons. And Mormons’ level of satisfaction with their
community is high. It’s higher than the public overall, but it’s especially
high among Mormons in Utah who live in areas where the greatest concentrations
of Mormons are. So that would suggest that there might be a link between the
number of Mormons one is surrounded by and one’s perceptions of what it’s like
to be a Mormon in the United States. And I’ll leave it at that. Maybe Dave and
Matt have some additional detail to share.
BOWMAN: Yes, I do. It’s worth
noting, I think, to this question that Mormon congregations are formed
geographically, and so Mormons go to church with people who live near them. I
think this may have something to do with that sense of strong community and a
strong local community in particular.
CAMPBELL: I don’t know whether
I’m stepping outside the bounds of this conversation, but I can speak to other
data where questions have been asked of not just Mormons, but Americans in
general: Have you ever heard negative comments made about your religion? Mormons
actually rank at the very top. Mormons and Jews are the two groups that are the
most likely to say that they’ve heard something to their face said negatively
about their religion. So at least some of what we’re picking up, I think, in
this Pew survey regarding the negative perception that Mormons feel from the
rest of America is actually a product of their personal experience, having
heard comments that they perceive as being negative or critical or even
LUGO: Very helpful, Dave. Absolutely
feel free to bring any reliable data to bear on this conversation. We share the
limelight with you; delighted to do it.
MICHELLE BEARDEN, THE TAMPA TRIBUNE: Yet another question that wasn’t addressed in
the survey, so you might be able to have it from other data. But I was
wondering if anybody knew about the single biggest factor as to why Americans
consider Mormons a cult. I mean, that’s a pretty strong word, and so to
consider someone a cult, is there a particular factor that stands out? And this
is also part of that question: What are the beliefs that bother non-Mormons the
most about Mormons? I’ll leave that to any of you to answer.
LUGO: Let’s begin with Greg, and
let’s put the cult answer in context with what people were also saying because,
again, the fact that it’s the most commonly given answer doesn’t mean that
everybody answered, “a cult.” So put that in context for us, Greg.
SMITH: Sure. You’re exactly
right to point out that when we talk about the words that people use that come
from the top of their heads to describe Mormonism, “cult” is commonly offered
in response to that question, but that doesn’t mean that anything like a
majority volunteer that word because people can volunteer any word that they
want. So you can imagine that there’s a wide variety of responses we get. We
get other negative responses. Some people cite “polygamy.” But I should also
say we get a very large number, as well, of positive responses.
I hope that our comments here today shouldn’t be taken to suggest that
the American public as a whole is completely negative toward Mormonism. That’s
not the case. There are many people who are quite favorably disposed toward
Mormons. And a lot of the common answers that we get in response to this
question, what’s the one word that comes to mind to best describe Mormonism,
are positive: words like “family,” words like “family values,” words like “committed,”
“dedicated,” “good people.” While I think it’s important to be cognizant of the
reservations that many Americans do have, it’s also important to recognize the
flipside as well.
The one other thing that jumps to my mind that might speak to this
question is that in previous polling that we conducted, and I’m thinking back
especially to some polling
we did back in 2007, we tended to find a strong link between whether or not
people view Mormonism as a Christian religion and their overall views of Mormons
and Mormonism. Americans who say Mormonism is a Christian religion tend to have
more favorable views of it, tend to be more likely to see it as similar to
their own faith and so on. Americans who say Mormonism is not a Christian
religion, by contrast, tend to be more negative. So that’s the thing that jumps
to my mind that we’ve seen in our data in terms of people’s concern about
LUGO: Obviously we can’t test
this because we can only ask people about their current attitudes, but in my
own mind I do the counterfactual: What if Mormons did not view themselves as
Christians, as the vast majority do, and say they were such? Would that make
any difference, let’s say, among evangelicals and others with respect to their
attitudes towards Mormonism if they felt that, look, it’s just a different
I wonder if part of it — again, this is sheer speculation — may not be
involved with the claim that the Mormon church makes to being Christian and
then, particularly on the part of a certain segment of the Christian community,
that rubbing them the wrong way, as it were. I’m just throwing that out there. Maybe
David or Matt would like to add their thoughts on that.
CAMPBELL: Sure, I’ll weigh in. One
thing I should note is this survey was done not long after the word “cult” was
being associated with Mormonism in the news because of the statement made by
Pastor Jeffress there in Dallas at the Values Voter Summit. That’s not to say
that that word wouldn’t have come up otherwise if you did the survey at a
different time, but that’s probably worth noting because other surveys are
finding when you ask people, what word comes to mind when they hear “Mormon,”
surveys done in the last couple of weeks — “polygamy” actually seems to rise to
the top rather than “cult.”
Both of those are negative terms, and they probably have a lot to do
with one another. I think when people are answering a question, what comes to
mind when you hear the term “Mormon,” and they say “cult,” I doubt that they
have a very precise definition in their mind of what a cult is. I think what
they’re saying is that this is a religion that is different than mine and has
some elements of it that I find objectionable.
I like Luis’s point; I think it’s an important one to make, that when
we say that the concern over Mormonism is that it’s not Christian, that isn’t
actually quite the whole story. It’s that it’s not Christian and claims to be
Christian. That, I think, is what concerns evangelicals. And as to why it is
that other groups, particularly evangelical Christians, take issue with
Mormonism, I’m sure that a spokesperson for an evangelical denomination could
give you a whole long list, but it would start with the fact that the Mormon
faith, or the LDS faith, does believe in scripture beyond the Bible. That’s
where the nickname “Mormon” comes from, the Book of Mormon.
Another one that I think rankles a lot of evangelicals is that
Mormonism actually claims to be a restored form of pure Christianity, that
Joseph Smith marked the beginning of a new era in Christianity, and that prior
to Joseph Smith starting the LDS Church, all other Christian faiths had been
corrupted and were not a representation of what Jesus himself organized on the
earth. And so you can maybe appreciate why that would rankle at least some
evangelicals and perhaps those in other Christian faiths as well.
LUGO: That’s true, and in fact,
there’s another religious group that’s of similar size to Mormons, and that’s
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also make restorationist kinds of claims. They’re also
not held in very high esteem by evangelicals.
ALAN COOPERMAN, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: I just wanted to note that we have asked this
one-word question twice. We asked it the first time in 2007, and in 2007 the
most common single response was “polygamy.” As Dave notes, it’s also been
coming up more recently in other polls. The second-most common response in 2007
was “family.” This time around, when we asked in 2011, the single-most common
response was “cult,” but other common responses were things like, also, “family”
or “family values,” “dedicated,” ”devout,” “religious,” “friendly,” that sort
So I think what jumped out when you look at this open-ended question,
in fact, is that the American public as a whole has a mixture of both positive
and negative and some simply neutral — because conservative and Republican are
also common associations — but some very positive, but also some very negative
TIM TOWNSEND, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: Hi. You mentioned in your opening remarks,
Greg, about the tension between evangelicals or that Mormons feel from
evangelicals. I just wondered if there were any other questions in the survey
about how Mormons feel about what other religious groups feel toward them. I
know that Professor Campbell has looked at this before, about how Jews or
Catholics, for instance, feel toward Mormons. But I wondered if that was a part
of the survey or if there were any findings about that.
SMITH: The one other question
that I think taps into this — not directly, but I think indirectly — is the
open-ended question we asked: What are the most important problems facing
Mormons in the United States today? I think you can see in the responses to
that question a reflection of Mormons’ ideas about how they’re perceived by
For example, 12 percent of the Mormons that we spoke with said one of
the most important problems Mormons face is that they’re not seen as Christian.
Another 7 percent say, we’re seen as a cult or as a sect. And another 7 percent
say, we’re seen as polygamists. I think what you’re seeing reflected there is
this recognition of some of the perceptions that non-Mormons have toward
Mormons, perhaps especially evangelicals.
LUGO: Matt, why don’t you jump
in on that?
BOWMAN: I was going to say
something about the word “Christian” and another reason, in addition to Dave’s,
why this would be a problem. Evangelicals do not think Mormons are Christian
for two reasons. One is that Mormons believe that God the Father and Jesus
Christ are two separate, physical beings, and many evangelicals hear this
belief and conclude that Mormons do not believe that Jesus Christ is actually
Secondly, many evangelicals reserve the word “Christian” for people who
have been saved — people who have had a conversion experience — and to Mormons,
salvation does not work this way. So that may be not in direct response to the
question asked, but it is what I had to say.
LUGO: All right. That’s very
helpful. Thank you.
ANDREW LAWTON, LANDMARK REPORT: Good
morning. It was said at the top of the call, I believe, this is the first study
of its kind to not be done by LDS, and I was wondering if there were any
discrepancies or disparities in the data in this survey and any that you know
of that have been done by LDS — and if you could go over those, if they do
LUGO: That would be for David
and Matt, I think, to respond to.
COOPERMAN: Or even more, if I
could jump in — Marie Cornwall, who was one of our advisers, was involved in at
least one of the unpublished LDS surveys, and maybe more than one. She might be
able to answer that. But since the results of those surveys have not been
published, we were not able to include comparisons with them in our report.
LUGO: Marie Cornwall, one of the
advisers Alan was mentioning, and if you want her contact information, we’d be
delighted to give that to you.
CAMPBELL: One thing that I’ll
mention is that we know the LDS Church does some research internally, although
I don’t know how much of it actually would be comparable to what this survey
reflects. Over the years, we’ve seen smaller surveys done of an LDS population
in one part of the United States or maybe in another part of the world, and
those are not, perhaps surprisingly, often done by LDS scholars themselves.
Then, of course, another source of data on Mormons has come from large
surveys, Pew being one of the leading organizations on this, but there are
other sources of data as well, where we’ll do a large survey of the entire U.S.
population, and if it’s big enough, it means you can actually say something
about smaller groups, like Mormons or Jews or Muslims.
If you take a look at all of that data put together, I wouldn’t say
that there’s anything in this study that sort of leapt off the page at me as
something that seemed surprising or shocking or completely out of line with
what we’ve seen in other data. I would say that this study maybe deepens our
understanding of Mormonism, but I don’t think it fundamentally alters it.
LUGO: Thank you. That’s very
helpful. Matt, did you want to say anything? I know David is the numbers guy,
the survey guy, but just in general in terms of Mormon self-perception, as you
understand it, what would they find surprising in this survey? Or would they
say, you know what? We’re looking at the mirror here.
BOWMAN: Yeah. I think, as Dave
says, there is not much in this survey that would surprise many Mormons. One
thing that may, I think, is something that Dave noted near the beginning and
Greg did as well, that this survey because it is self-identified — practicing
Mormons — it was probably not a mirror of your average Mormon congregation,
which has fairly high rates of people who do not go to church, high rates of
people who would not answer the questions about practice and belief with the
same sort of unanimity that you see in the respondents here. But generally, I
think, what you have here would actually make the Mormons fairly happy.
LUGO: Thank you so much to
everybody — the journalists for listening in and participating, to David
Campbell and Matt Bowman. If we can be of further help to you folks in writing
your stories, please do not hesitate to call. We’re here to be of service to
you. Again, thank you for joining us on this call. Our time, unfortunately, is
up. Thanks so much.
This written transcript has been edited by Amy Stern for clarity, grammar and accuracy.