Anti-Mormon Sentiment Increasing

The "Mormon Question" that has long plagued Mitt Romney is being raised again by a new study showing the sentiment rising among liberals and non-believers.

The “Mormon Question” that has long plagued Mitt Romney is being raised again by a new study showing the sentiment rising among liberals and non-believers.

BuzzFeed (“Study: Liberal Anti-Mormonism On The Rise“):

Americans’ aversion to voting for Mormons has spiked since Mitt Romney’s first presidential bid in 2007 — and that the people most wary of Mormon candidates are not Evangelicals, but rather political liberals and non-religious voters, according to new research from a leading scholar of anti-Mormon attitudes.

The overall increase in anti-Mormon attitudes among liberals may be an unanticipated consequence of the “the continuing candidacy of Mitt Romney and Mormon activism against same-sex marriage,” the study suggests. And its findings may be alarming to the Romney campaign because among the study’s other findings is that voters’ perceptions of Mormonism are closely tied to whether they’ll vote for him.

According to American National Election Studies, nearly 35 percent of national respondents said in February they were “less likely” to vote for a Mormon. That’s up nine points from 2007, when Pew found 26 percent of voters expressing concern about pulling the lever for a Latter-day Saint.

The uptick in anti-Mormon voter attitudes may come as a surprise to those who predicted Romney’s candidacy would have a mainstreaming effect on his faith. But as University of Sydney scholar David Smith, the paper’s author, writes, just as President Obama’s successful candidacy didn’t put an end to tense race relations in America, Romney’s political assent hasn’t cured the country of anti-Mormonism. In fact, as the data shows, Romney’s rise may have lead to increased anxiety about his religion among his natural political opponents.

According to the paper, concern about Mormonism has remained relatively stable among Evangelicals, with 36 percent expressing aversion to an LDS candidate in 2007 and 33 percent doing so in 2012. But among non-religious voters, that number shot up 20 points in the past five years, from 21 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in February. There were also substantial increases in Mormon-averse voters among liberals — 28 percent in 2007 and 43 percent in 2012 — as well as moderates, who went from 22 percent in 2007 to 32 percent this year.

“Aversion to Mormons is still an important foce in American public opinion, and one that seriously affects Romney’s chances even if he ultimately overcomes it,” Smith writes in his paper, available online here.

Fox News (“Liberals increasingly wary of Mormons in office, study shows“)

The GOP’s all-important social conservatives may be getting more comfortable with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith — but liberals are increasingly wary about the candidate’s religion in the run-up to November, according to a new study.

The study found anti-Mormon attitudes have increased since Romney’s 2008 presidential bid and are highest among liberal and non-religious voters. Their discomfort could pose a problem for the Republican candidate in November.

“The victory of Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary has convinced many observers that Romney’s Mormon religion is now irrelevant to his electoral chances,” wrote study author David Smith. But “aversion to Mormons is still an important force in American public opinion, and one that seriously affects Romney’s chances even if he ultimately overcomes it.”

The study found attitudes about Mormonism among Evangelicals has largely remained unchanged since 2007 — when 37 percent said they were “less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president,” compared with 33 percent this year.

However, that sentiment among non-religious voters increased from 21 percent to 41 percent over roughly the same period.

Among liberal voters, 43 percent said they were less likely to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate in 2012, compared with 28 percent in 2007.

Political strategist Elliott Curson said Thursday that Romney’s religion becomes less of concern “as each day goes by.”

“Still, some people will not vote for Romney because he’s not of their religion, and some people will not vote for Obama because he’s not like them,” said Curson, a media consultant for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

He said whether independents — which could include those non-religious and liberal voters — will swing toward Romney despite religious concerns is too difficult to predict because people typically don’t give accurate information to such questions in polls.

The study by Smith, a University of Sydney scholar, found the apparent anti-Mormon sentiment among liberal votes might be the result of the member’s activism against “same-sex” marriage.

The findings come as acceptance of Mormonism in America appears to have reached a record high. Members of the religion can be found on both sides of the aisle, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), one of the more prominent Democrat Mormons.

This isn’t particularly shocking. Recall that back in 2007 a prescient Gallup poll told us that a black president was more likely than a Mormon or atheist. While a mere 4 percent of Americans admitted that they would definitely not vote for a black candidate for president, 24 percent said that of a Mormon and a whopping 53 percent said it of an atheist.

That said, while prejudice is widespread, it’s usually general rather than specific. That is, people might be uncomfortable with a notional Mormon but be willing to vote for Mitt Romney, a specific Mormon. Just as anti-black racists will cheer for black athletes or recognize a particular co-worker as “one of the good ones,” many Evangelicals who are queasy about what they see as the cult of Mormonism will nonetheless happily pull the lever for Romney.

As for the uptick in anti-Mormon sentiment among liberals, it’s unlikely to have much to do with the election. After all, they weren’t going to vote for Romney, anyway.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    I recall being pretty irked about the Mormon exception to the draft in the 60s, especially since so many seemed so pro-war, but I cant say I really knew much or cared about their faith per se. Now, I think I feel pretty much the same way. I dont really care about their religion, but they are part of the socially conservative base that, IMO, would cause great harm to the country if we followed their preferences. I would have voted for the Romney of 2003, but now that he is hewing to policies more in line with his base, social conservatives being a strong part of that group, I am much less inclined to vote for him.


  2. James in LA says:

    Read the Book of Mormon, and some history of Joseph Smith, and this sentiment is only likely to increase. He was the L-Ron Hubbard of his time having founded a now global religion based on nothing, nothing at all. Three words summed up my own reaction to this ever-smile tripe: Back Away Slowly.

  3. @James in LA:

    Mormonism is only about 150 years old or so.

    I’ll bet that in AD 180 or so, people were saying the same thing about that whole New Testament thing. Time has a way of changing perspective when it comes to religions.

  4. Hello World! says:

    There are certain defining characteristics that classify a religion vs a cult and mormonism teaters very close to that line.

  5. Not to press the point any further than I did with James, but in it’s first centuries, Christianity was considered a Jewish cult.

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    What are the odds that 60 Minutes will run an “expose” on Mormonism a week or two prior to Election Day?

  7. michael reynolds says:

    It seems an unnecessary embellishment to me. An over-engineered, over-complex version 3.0.

    You start with a God who likes the cut the foreskins off babies and hates bacon.

    Then you decide that God goes around impregnating virgins and promptly arranging the execution of his own son.

    Then, suddenly, God’s in upstate New York playing hide-and-seek with golden tablets, demanding magic underwear and launching a vendetta against coffee.

    And version 4.0 is called Scientology.

  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    My guess would be that the liberal / non-religious upswing is tied to the fact that Mormons are widely seen as a very solid block of the GOP combined with their very obvious participation in the Prop 8 fight in California.

  9. mattb says:

    @michael reynolds: On the plus side, v2.0 allowed penis to stay intact. And (threatened) Son killing was added while things were still in Beta.

  10. LaurenceB says:

    @Tsar Nicholas

    I guess over the years I’ve sub-consciously trained myself to ignore all of the whiny conservative cries of “media bias”, but I couldn’t help to chuckle over your comment.

    I’m guessing you’re not aware of the long, warm relationship between 60 minutes and the Mormon Church, so here’s a little taste of it: When former LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote his book “Standing for Something”, the guy who wrote the Forward to the book was no other than Mike Wallace. Believe me, Mormonism is well-trod ground over at 60 minutes and the coverage of Mormonism has been highly favorable.

    Please don’t take this personally, I just got a chuckle of it – that’s all.

  11. One interesting thing would be to see the results of a poll question like:

    “Would you be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who was Mormon, such as {ALTERNATE BETWEEN: Mitt Romney, Harry Reid}?”

    Would be interested to see if the rise in negative liberal responses is due to bias angainst Mormon’s per se, or that the question is being answered as “Would you vote for Mitt Romney?” rather than a generic Mormon.

  12. Tony says:

    One must remember that a lot of people had an issue with Kennedy being a Catholic. Catholicism is just as much a cult as Mormonism though. The Mormons however are a little extra scary. They demand 10% of your paycheck. Its like paying to join a club, a very expensive club. Also, check this out

    He can’t be president and be Mormon

  13. Tony,

    How, exactly, is the founding church of Christianity a “cult”?

  14. Russell says:

    I claim dibs on the “if liberals weren’t such bigots Romney would have won” meme

  15. Tony says:

    @Doug Mataconis: First of all, you have to understand anything related to “CHRISTianty” is a hoax, because its all anthropamorphized storytelling. The story of Jesus i.e. the 12 disciples, the crucifixion etc has been told throughout the world for thousands of years. Look up Krishna for a quick reference, but there are hundreds more. So your right that the Catholic church was the original christian church, it was also the original cult. The history of the catholic church is filled with deception and secrecy. Its all a hoax.

  16. Tony,

    I am not going to debate the truth or falsity of Christianity. I made a historical observation that what is considered a “cult” is generally dependent on how new the religion in question is.

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Funny how bigots always finds lots of ways to rationalize their bigotry…

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Speaking of cults, just how much money is Obama getting from Scientologists? Now that’s one freaky, scary-ass cult..

  19. Tony says:

    @Doug Mataconis: That is certainly an observation. The definition of “cult” is pretty loose. To me it doesn’t matter how old the religion is.

  20. I’m an atheist myself Tony but I’ve never quite understood why some people feel the need to gratuitously insult the religious beliefs of others. I really don’t care what they believe and I don’t see the point in antagonizing them.

  21. gVOR08 says:

    This strikes me as badly overblown. They’ve been asking this question for years. At a national level, it’s been largely a hypothetical, this year it’s very concrete. The line between hypothetical Mormon and Mitt Romney will have been very thin, hence the downtick with Evangelicals.

    There is a lot of space between the question, ‘would you be less likely to vote for a Mormon’, and ‘I would never vote for a Mormon’. One percent less likely is still less likely.

    The rise is among liberals and atheists. Essentially no liberals, and I suspect a minority of atheists, were ever going to vote for Romney in the first place. I suspect the net effect of these changes in attitude on the election is just about nil.

    Doug, you’re correct that over the centuries the perception of Mormonism as a cult will fade. The reality that Mormonism was a cult, and is still very like a cult, will not change.

  22. Tony says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Im with you on believing what you want, and not being persecuted for it. However, if that religion openly hurts people i.e. catholic priests, or Mormons hurting gays then I will speak up about it and criticize them. Also, its shocking how many people don’t know the truth about Christianity.

  23. rudderpedals says:

    Don’t discount the Bradley effect and what polling doesn’t say about the base. Romney’s real challenge could be gotv.

    /now in the correct thread for extra goodness

  24. Hello World! says:

    @Tony: I’ll never forget going to St. peters church (Saint Anna Maria in Amalfi) in Italy, where the catholic church displays the miracle of his bones emitting oil every Easter Sunday. The empty bowl with a few bones sit there with a crowd of people gathered around. Its amazing, out of no where 2 monks take the bowl away and 20 minutes later they emerge from the back with the bowl of bones and they are clearly covered in oil. People cried and rushed to be blessed with the oil. Others were convinced it was a miracle but I felt I’d been had.

  25. merl says:

    I’ve never had a problem with Mormons and I don’t care what you believe, but Romney is changing my mind fast with his constant lies I know politicians lie but Romney makes Nixon look like the most honest man in the world.

  26. Gustopher says:

    I think people on the left are beginning to see how much of a,political organization the Mormon church is, and how opposed it is to modern American values of freedom, and not dealing with silly god-botherers.

    Most Mormons I have met are personally fine people, who hold political views that I find objectionable. I wouldn’t vote fr any of them for any position where they make social policy.

  27. Tony says:

    @Hello World!: Sounds slippery

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    What are the odds that 60 Minutes will run an “expose” on Mormonism a week or two prior to Election Day?

    What are the odds that I’ll be watching the Fox Soccer Channel instead of the 60 Minutes ‘expose’ on Mormonism? I’d say about 1 to 1 that I’, watching the soccer.

  29. G.A. says:

    How, exactly, is the founding church of Christianity a “cult”?

    um, that’s not the founding Church of Christianity…Check the New Testament:)

    I know you can read your butt off…but a simple google search will tell you.

  30. grumpy realist says:

    Meh. I divide religions into those that consider me inferior because of my body parts and those who consider me equal to someone of the masculine persuasion.

    Mormonism, unfortunately, falls in the former class.

    And if the US is dumb enough to elect someone who wants to put the US on the track to 1950s ossification, well, then, it’s dumb enough. And I head back off to Japan or Europe, or some other country that will treat me as an equal.

  31. Me Me Me says:

    One wants a bit of rationality in one’s leaders.

    To remain within the Mormon Church, as an adult, you have be willing to ignore the rather obvious evidence that a loon invented this “religion”.

    Would you vote for man who said he was Jedi?

  32. Tony says:

    @Me Me Me: Jedi? Yes. Mormon? No. Jedi’s are pretty awesome