Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Do Mormons Really Love Pres. Bush?

Platforming off articles like this one that cite recent polls showing that President Bush’s approval rating is higher in Utah than anywhere else, many people (including bloggers) have been asking why this is so. They are puzzled as to why Utahns are such a political outlier.

The late-January Washington Post-ABC News poll discussed in the offensive article cited above pegged the President’s approval rating nationwide at 42%, but at 61% in Utah. However, the poll’s margin of error makes Utah statistically even with Idaho and Nebraska. A number of other blue states aren’t far behind. The red states really pull the President’s numbers down, but his approval rating has stayed pretty level in those states. It’s the blue states that have moved to bring his numbers to new lows.

Being a political outlier has very real consequences. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal has repeatedly noted the problem this creates for the Black community. Political outliers make a statement, but diminish their political power, since they can be consistently counted on to vote a particular way regardless of what happens. It must be recognized, however, that some communities willingly accept the cost of making their statements.

The slant that I find interesting promoted by some here in Utah is the insinuation that the President’s higher approval rating in Utah is caused by the LDS Church. The reasoning goes like this. Most people in Utah are Mormons. Everyone intuitively knows that Mormons vote Republican and that it’s against their religion to associate with progressives. Therefore, Utah’s blueness is due to the LDS Church, and Mormons are completely incapable of seeing the President’s flaws.

While all of this links together in an intuitive manner, particularly from certain perspectives, we need to ask whether there is any empirical evidence to back it up. I went searching for reliable numbers that show how Mormons in Utah vote. This site has a number of interesting demographics relative to the LDS Church and to Utah, but nothing about voting trends. The SL Trib made waves last summer with a suite of articles (links to all from here) that set LDS Church membership in Utah at 62.4%, coupled with a projection that Mormons will be in the minority in Utah by 2030.

Just for the record, Utah Mormons do tend to vote quite Republican, but there is a significant corps of Democrat voting Mormons as well. SL Trib research shows that Republican and Democrat voting percentages of non-Mormons in Utah is very similar to that of their Mormon neighbors, somewhat refuting the idea that Mormons vote Republican while non-Mormons vote Democrat.

Then we come to the issue of practicing vs. non-practicing Mormons. How do they vote? It appears that non-practicing Mormons in Utah tend to vote only somewhat less Republican than practicing Mormons.

However, I could find clear indicators of how Mormons view President Bush. Inferences can be made, but they cannot be corroborated with hard evidence. It would seem that a lot of non-Mormons helped attribute to the President’s 61% approval rating, but this cannot be said for certain either.

I suspect that what puzzles most of the puzzlers is culturally based. Most people looking at a culture from the outside simply cannot comprehend some of the actions they observe. It’s unlikely that the cultural divide in Utah between Mormons and non-Mormons will go away anytime soon. Ditto for the cultural divide between Utah’s Republicans and Democrats.

It will be interesting to see how the voting demographic changes as LDS Church membership diminishes in relation to Utah’s overall population. It will also be interesting to see how Utah’s worldview will change relative to that of the nation as a whole.

5 comments:

mark smith said...

A lot of the problem for voters like me is the Democrat party just isn't a choice. Only once have I deliberately voted for a democrat. But the Republican party isn't much of a choice either. Basically when it doesn't matter (one candidate is going to win in a blow out) I vote Libertarian to make a point of where I want gov't to go, and when it does matter I'll vote Republican, because they are marginally than Democrats.

Silver Lining said...

Not that it helps in the overall theme of your post (which is very interesting by the way), but I now live in California, and a fair number of Mormons here vote Democrat. It is probably still a slight majority Republican though I have no hard data to back that up. Those that I know and have spoken with are mainly union oriented in their support of the Democrats (the CTA mostly). There are a couple who just hate the war in Iraq.

Another thing to puzzle the puzzlers is how many Mormons can't stand Senator Harry Reid (also a Mormon). There is an article from the Salt Lake Tribune that is several years old now in which Senator Reid states that he gets more angry letters and negative comments from Mormons than anyone else. Interesting. You could google it if you wanted to read it.

Cliff said...

Great post Scott!

I think Silver Lining nailed it unknowingly "Senator Reid states that he gets more angry letters and negative comments from Mormons than anyone else."

I think it’s about motivation. The LDS church does an admirable job of encouraging community participation, and the Republican Party has done a great job of giving the intensely religious a reason to participate in politics.

Mormons both agree to take polls and vote in higher proportions than others.

Reach Upward said...

I think Silver Lining and Cliff are correct in stating that Mormon politics outside of Utah differs from Mormon politics inside of Utah. The SL Trib published an interesting article last April about Mormon movers and shakers in Washington DC. I couldn't find it on the Trib's website, but you can read the article here. A companion listing of who's who among Mormons in DC is here. You can see that there are active Mormons on both sides of the political aisle.

Also, some articles that discuss Senator Reid's faith can be found here. I think it's no secret that many conservative Mormons absolutely detest our Senate Minority Leader. Since many equate their politics with their religious beliefs, they simply cannot understand how any Mormon could be a liberal. They see people like Senator Reid as traitors. They can't comprehend how they could hold a Temple recommend.

Once again, I think this comes down to the cultural divide between conservatives and liberals. It seems to deepen among religious individuals when our politics inform our religious beliefs rather than our religious beliefs informing our politics. When I study my religion, I don't find a good, clean political fit in either major political party, so I completely understand Mark's position.

Reach Upward said...

Sorry, blew the link to the LDS movers and shakers in DC. See here.