Can a good Mormon be a good Democrat?

It’s true that most Utah Mormons are Republicans, but it’s not true that most Utah Mormons think good Mormons cannot be good Democrats.

On election day, BYU cooperated with other universities to field the Utah Colleges Exit Poll. On the version used in Utah House districts 48 (Beck vs Christensen) and 63 (Sanpei vs Jarvis), I was able to ask this question:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following: A person cannot be a good Mormon and a good Democrat.

Respondents could “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree,” or “strongly disagree.” From interactions I’ve had with a few folks, I expected to find that a sizable minority of Mormons would agree with the statement, especially Mormon Republicans.

I was wrong. Just about everybody in this state rejects that statement, whether Mormon or not, whether Republican or Democrat, as shown in the figure below. For each group, the blue portion of the bar shows you what percentage reject the statement (click to enlarge):

Whether looking at all respondents (yellow box), Republican respondents (red box), or Democratic respondents (blue box), the pattern is the same: Self-declared “very active” Mormons “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement at roughly the same rates as people who are not Mormon.

Weirdly, though, Mormons who called themselves something other than “very active” (such as “somewhat active,” “not very active,” or “not active”) are more likely than “very active” Mormons to agree that good Mormons cannot be Democrats. I have trouble explaining this finding. Perhaps Mormons who don’t go to church much have picked up from Mormon culture the rightward pull but haven’t heard the repeated over-the-pulpit letters declaring that “principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of various political parties.”

If you have lived in Utah long, you have probably encountered people who believe, contrary to repeated church statements, that the Republican Party is somehow church-sanctioned. To be fair, of course, you may have also encountered a few Mormon Democrats who feel that the LDS faith requires a lean to the left. But from this poll, it looks like the overwhelmingly majority of Utahns reject these sorts of arguments.

It’s true that most Utah Mormons are Republicans, but it’s not true that most Utah Mormons think good Mormons cannot be good Democrats.

Update: Some folks are concerned that maybe people didn’t answer this question honestly. I worried about that too, so I included a handful of other questions on the exit poll intended to more subtly detect whether folks act like Mormons can’t be Democrats even if they won’t admit it. I’ll post that data in a few days. Stay tuned.

Update 2: Here’s the link to the follow-up post.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate 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.
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7 Responses to Can a good Mormon be a good Democrat?

  1. Will Matheson says:

    I feel like it didn’t get at the root of the problem. It’s not whether or not a Democrat can be a ‘good Mormon’. It seems like every LDS ward has their token Democrat who they know is a ‘good Mormon’. I bet the question would have been better if stated in this manner: (Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement?) A good Mormon Democrat can legislate and make policy consistent with your values as an LDS member (or for non-members “… consistent with values of the LDS church”).

  2. Adam Brown says:

    I agree that there are many different ways of asking the question. Something along the lines of what you’re asking would certainly yield more “disagree” responses, especially among Republicans. The difficulty then is that it’s hard to figure out whether respondents are disagreeing because they feel their religion requires it or because they figure a Democrat (Mormon or otherwise) wouldn’t share their policy views.

    The main one I’m trying to isolate here is whether Mormons really believe that their religion somehow precludes them from voting Democratic, but it’s mighty hard to isolate that possibility from the possibility that Mormons might lean Republican for reasons that have little to do with their faith–just as Jewish voters lean Democratic (nationally) for reasons that apparently have little to do with their faith.

  3. Morgan Curriden says:

    An interesting question…This is something that I think about often as I am what you might call the “Resident Democrat” of my Mormon congregation. The interesting thing is that in my political discussions with fellow Mormon’s, church doctrine is almost always brought up on the side of conservatism. I am currently a student at BYU and my roommate constantly insists that the very idea of social justice (in this case referring to welfare and other such programs) is of the devil, and conforms to his original “plan” for mankind. I must confess that upon seeing the question asked in the exit pole, I was sure the numbers would be quite different. It might be interesting to conduct this pole in states other than Utah where the democrats are a little less isolated and a little more influential. In Utah, it’s all well and good to say that Democrats can be good Mormons when you only know two Democrats (if that) and there is NO chance of a liberal attaining a significant public office. I am from Nevada where Harry Reid is an extremely controversial politician among the Mormon population. I could not even begin to describe the number of times that I’ve heard people attack him personally as a result of his liberal views, even going as far as to express disbelief that he holds a temple recommend. These views are even occasionally expressed while in church meetings. I would like to see if the results of this pole are different in a place where Mormon Democrats appear slightly more threatening.

    • Adam Brown says:

      As for the “social justice” thing, I think your roommate might be referring to some widely publicized comments that Glenn Beck made in 2010. A response from the head of LDS public affairs (written at the time) is here.

      As for different effects outside Utah, here’s one piece of evidence that goes against your argument: Mormons outside the Mountain West are much less Republican than Utah Mormons are. They’re still mostly conservative, but less so. (Let’s pretend you asked about a non-Western state, not Nevada, since Nevada politics are so similar to Utah politics).

      In Utah, 69% of Mormons report being Republican or leaning Republican. Outside the western region (i.e. outside Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Utah), only 55% of Mormons report being Republican or leaning Republican. See the source (page 3).

  4. Regina Verstraete says:

    The question should be – How can a good Mormon be a good Democrat? Of course, that would mean getting more of an answer than agree or disagree. And maybe, for once, someone can answer that question for me.

    • Adam Brown says:

      The question could just as easily be asked of either party. I have asked it of LDS Republicans and also LDS Democrats, and I’ve found both able to give good answers.

  5. VY says:

    A good Mormon can most certainly be a Democrat, but does a good Democrat make a good Mormon?

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