Expert Commentary

Mormons in America: Certain in their beliefs, uncertain of their place in society

2012 study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Mormon attitudes on religion, politics and American society.

Mitt Romney is first Mormon in U.S. history to become a presidential nominee for one of the country’s major political parties. His running mate, Paul Ryan, is Catholic, but this has caused far fewer waves in 2012 than John Kennedy’s religion did in 1960. Instead, it’s the presidential nominee’s faith that has brought attention to a religion once considered outside the mainstream of U.S. culture.

A 2012 Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life report, “Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society,” captures Mormon attitudes on religion, politics and American society. The researchers conducted telephone interviews with 1,019 practicing Mormon adults in October and November 2011. Questions focused on four main issues for this community, also identified as LDS, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Mormon identity; religious beliefs and practices; ideology, partisanship and economic views; and cultural and moral issues.

The study’s findings include:

  • Mormons frequently perceive themselves as misunderstood by the rest of the American public. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed believe the American people know little or nothing about the Mormon faith, and more than two-thirds (68%) do not think that the American people see Mormonism as part of mainstream American society. Nearly half (46%) say there is significant discrimination against Mormons in the United States.
  • More than two-thirds (69%) of Mormons surveyed say that “religion is very important to them, that they pray every day and that they go to church every week.” However, those surveyed were less committed to upholding certain rules on behavior, including avoiding coffee and tea (49%) and not watching R-rated movies (32%). More than one-quarter (27%) of Mormons surveyed have completed missionary work, including 43% of all men and 11% of women.
  • Nearly three-quarters (75%) identify as Republicans or lean toward the political right. Very religious Mormons (74%) and Mormon men (73%) tend to be the most conservative; those with lower levels of religious commitment are more likely to identify as more liberal (15%).
  • Mitt Romney, a Mormon candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, is viewed favorably by an estimated 62% of Mormon voters, while the candidacy of fellow Mormon and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., was supported by half of Mormon voters. “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.”
  • Nearly all (97%) of Mormon respondents consider themselves Christians. However, according to a previous survey, approximately half (47%) of white evangelical Christians believe that Mormons are not Christians and two-thirds (66%) feel that Mormonism is “very or somewhat different” than Christianity.

Although a majority of Mormons surveyed felt that they faced discrimination and that their religion is not well-understood, the researchers note that “most Mormons think that acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise…. More than six-in-ten (63%) say that the American people are becoming more likely to see Mormonism as mainstream.”

Tags: religion