Even as Utah Democrats exult over mild wording in a recent LDS Church First Presidency statement that can be interpreted to mean that official sanction has been granted for Mormons to be Democrats, there is widespread recognition that most Utah Mormons will continue to vote Republican—at least for the time being.
I offered my opinion here as to some of the reasons that Utah Mormons largely identify with the GOP. Paul Rolly says here that Democratic anti-Mormon sentiments are party to blame for the dearth of Mormon Democrats. Allan Carlson of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society offers more information here that I believe shines additional light on this topic.
Let’s stipulate that all major political parties are coalitions of various groups that band together for political power. Intra-party politics have all of the elements of inter-party politics plus some. It takes a lot of wrangling (and sometimes bludgeoning) for a party to offer a cohesive message on any given issue.
Let’s also stipulate that groups with political power come and go. Their influence waxes and wanes. Groups can also shift political parties. Carlson says that this is what happened in the early 60s through the early 80s. The Democratic Party was once the haven of family friendly policies. They appealed to union members and wage-level workers primarily due to policies that promoted single-income families.
The Republican Party was the abode of business, and interestingly, feminists. In the first six decades of the 20th Century, feminists and business had an alliance. Both wanted to get women into the workforce, but for different reasons. Feminists wanted equality while business viewed stay-at-home mothers as a waste of human resources.
As leftists increased their power in the Democratic Party in the 60s and 70s, pro-family groups lost power in the party. Feminists began aligning more with leftists and began moving to the Democratic Party during the turbulent culture wars. For many, the Democrats came to look like the party of immorality, decadence, anti-Americanism, and high taxes. Pushed out of the Democratic Party, pro-family groups and pro-defense groups aligned with the Republican Party.
This same time period saw Utah Mormons defect from the Democrats to the Republicans in droves. This was more than coincidence. The LDS Church is extremely pro-family. The realignment of pro-family groups to the GOP brought Mormons in tow. This dynamic allowed the upstart Republican Orrin Hatch to unseat 3-term Democratic Senator Frank Moss in 1976.
Carlson argues, however, that the partnership with big business has almost always left pro-family Republicans with the short end of the stick. Republicans have supported policy after policy designed to create more personal debt and to get mothers out of their homes and into the workforce. This fuels business and economic growth, but at the cost of creating a populace indentured to business by debt (creating a permanent cash flow to business) and relegating child rearing to the level of menial and unimportant. K-Street Republicans view pro-family Republicans like nutty relatives in the attic. Carlson says that every time pro-family desires come into conflict with business interests, business comes out on top.
It appears that pro-family interests find a poor fit in the Republican Party, but find absolutely no fit at all in a Democratic Party that is increasingly controlled by the far left (see here – scroll down to Publisher’s Opinion). Pro-family groups are not strong enough to create a viable third party. For the time being I believe they will continue to dwell uneasily in the GOP, constantly drubbed by their senior partner. It appears that Wasatch Front Mormons will largely follow this lead and will remain largely Republican. But the day may come when this changes, just as it did when dynamics changed just a few decades ago.