More on whether good Mormons can be good Democrats

If it’s hard to persuade Mormon Republicans to cross party lines and vote for a Democrat, that’s because it’s hard to persuade anybody to cross party lines.

Sometimes, people lie to pollsters. Not always, of course. But if you ask people to confess to something that they know makes them look bad, people are likely to lie. If your poll asks men whether they beat their wife, for example, most folks will say they don’t–even those who do. Pollsters call this “social desirability bias.” One example you may have heard of is the “Bradley effect,” where people won’t tell pollsters that they plan to vote against a black candidate for fear of looking racist.1

Recently I posted data showing that Mormons overwhelmingly reject the idea that a good Mormon can’t be a good Democrat. Some folks challenged me on that finding, though, supposing that there might be a social desirability problem. After all, official church statements have made clear that neither party has a church endorsement, so active Mormons may hesitate to confess that they really do believe that a good Mormon can’t be a good Democrat.

Suppose that’s true. It probably is to some extent. How might we detect if Mormons think that the Democratic party is at odds with their religion, even if they won’t say so explicitly?

One thing we could look for is evidence that Mormons are less willing to cross party lines than other folks. If Mormons were more committed partisans than other voters, then maybe that would be evidence that although Mormons won’t admit that they think Democrats are somehow evil, they act like it. Maybe Mormons are completely unwilling to consider voting for a Democrat–less willing than non-Mormons are to crossover.

Turns out the data don’t support that line of thinking. I looked at this a few ways, and I couldn’t find any evidence that Mormons are more committed to their party than anybody else in Utah. (To clarify, I’m not asking whether Mormons are more Republican than other Utahns; I’m asking whether Mormons are more partisan than other Utahns.)

First, let’s look at straight ticket voting. The 2010 Utah Colleges Exit Poll asked respondents in Utah House districts 48 and 63 who they had just voted for. Folks indicated their choice for governor, Senator, U.S. House, and Utah House. Let’s call somebody who chose the same party’s candidate in all four races a straight ticket voter. Here’s the data, with “less active Mormon” and “very active Mormon” defined the same as in my previous post:

Not Mormon Less active Mormon Very active Mormon
Not a straight ticket voter 8% 7% 9%
Straight ticket voter 92% 93% 91%

As you can see, there is no pattern at all. Active Mormons, less active Mormons, and non-Mormons in Utah are equally likely to vote a straight one-party ticket.

Second, let’s look at self-reported partisan loyalty. The exit poll form used in Utah House districts 48 and 63 included this three-part question:

Let’s call anybody who checked “Never” for all three parts of the question a “loyal partisan.” As the table below shows, religion does not correlate with this variable:

Not Mormon Less active Mormon Very active Mormon
Not a loyal partisan 70% 67% 69%
Loyal partisan 31% 33% 31%

Very active Mormons and non-Mormons look basically the same in all these tables. What’s interesting is that less active Mormons look slightly more partisan than very active Mormons and non-Mormons. Maybe that makes sense; I reported in my earlier post that less active Mormons were also more likely to believe that a good Mormon can’t be a Democrat.

Punchline: If there was any social desirability bias distorting my earlier analysis, I can’t find evidence for it here. In fact, the tables posted here reinforce the material I posted earlier. Yes, there are of course some folks in Utah who claim that good Mormons can’t be Democrats. I know a few. But it looks like Mormons aren’t any more committed to their chosen party than anybody else in this state. If it’s hard to persuade Mormon Republicans to cross party lines and vote for a Democrat, that’s because it’s hard to persuade anybody to cross party lines.

I often encounter Democratic candidates and activists pulling out their hair trying to figure out how they can get Mormons to vote for them. They should bear in mind that it’s hard to get anybody to cross party lines, regardless of their religion.

Possibly related posts:

About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
This entry was posted in Everything and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to More on whether good Mormons can be good Democrats

  1. Fred says:

    I find it interesting that the exit poll showed a very high straight party vote when typically in Utah you get less than 1/3 voting straight party.

    • Adam Brown says:

      Yes, it’s true that only about 1/3 at most will use the “straight ticket” option on the voting machines. But it appears that the large majority of people still choose a one-party slate of candidates, even if they cast a separate vote in each race rather than just pushing the elephant or donkey button.

  2. Lora says:

    Interesting findings. I wonder if there is, in their answers, any influence in Utah Mormon voting knowing that some Democratic candidates are also Mormons. I live in Washington state, am an independent that votes mostly Democratic and have to keep my left leanings quiet to my fellow Mormon friends. They are pretty adamant about being anti-Democratic and pro whoever the Republicans put up as candidates. It is rare to have an LDS member run for office in southwest Washington state.
    Could it therefore be part Utah culture to be open to voting across party lines due to a mix of candidates of both parties being LDS and non-LDS?

    • Adam Brown says:

      That’s a reasonable question, since many Democratic candidates in Utah are Mormon.

      Here’s one piece of evidence that goes against your argument, though: Mormons outside the Mountain West are much less Republican than Utah Mormons are. They’re still mostly conservative, but less so.

      In Utah, 69% of Mormons report being Republican or leaning Republican. Outside the western region (which is more than just Utah), only 55% of Mormons report being Republican or leaning Republican. See the source (page 3).

Comments are closed.