Public attitudes toward Mormonism and the 2012 presidential election

This is the first in a series of posts examining the role that public attitudes toward Mormons and Mormonism played in the 2012 election.

Throughout the 2012 campaign there was much attention given to how Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith might affect his run for the White House. Now that several months have elapsed, we can examine more thoroughly just how individual attitudes toward Mormons and Mormonism affected voter decision-making in the election.

Recently, the 2012 American National Election Study was released. This was a survey of over 6,000 Americans and included hundreds of questions about their political attitudes and behavior. The ANES study is considered by academics as one of the “gold standards” of political surveys that has helped provide insight into the political behavior of American citizens for over 50 years. There are a number of questions about attitudes toward Mormonism contained in the 2012 ANES survey. 

The first is a “feeling thermometer.” This question asks survey respondents to indicate their feelings toward a particular person or group on a 0-100 scale. 100 indicates very favorable feelings and 0 indicates very unfavorable feelings. Here is a histogram of the “Mormon feeling thermometer” responses among those who took the survey:  


The average score, clearly, is 50 on a scale of 0-100. 40% of respondents said 50, 10% said 60, and 8% said 40.

On another question, 51.5% correctly identified that Mormonism is a Christian religion, while 48.5% of respondents reported that Mormonism is not a Christian religion.

Respondents were also asked how many Mormons they personally knew. 53% of survey respondents indicated that they did not know any Mormons personally. 13% said they knew 1, 23% said they knew between 2-9 Mormons, and only 11% of the population reported knowing more than 10 Mormons personally.

Finally, survey respondents were asked how much commonality they perceived between Mormon beliefs and their own. Their responses:

  • 39% “nothing at all”
  • 33% “a little”
  • 21% “a moderate amount”
  • 4% “a lot”
  • 3% “a great deal”

What do these results suggest? Despite the aggressive missionary program and public relations campaign on the part of the Mormon church, the results of this survey suggest that most Americans don’t know any Mormons (or very few), perceive very little in common with them (only 7% of respondents say that they have a lot in common with Mormons), and feel, at best, ambivalently toward them (50% on the feeling thermometer and nearly half identifying them as non-Christian). Apparently, the perceived “other-ness” of Mormonism is alive and well in the American public.

My next post will dig deeper into the relationship between attitudes toward Mormons and other relevant political opinions and behaviors.

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