2012 Pew Report:Mormons in America — Views and Attitudes

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Mormons in America
Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

On January 11, 2012, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life released a groundbreaking new survey, the first ever published by a non-LDS research organization to focus exclusively on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their beliefs, values, perceptions and political preferences. [1] The Pew Forum titled the survey, "Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society." During the 2011 campaign for a Republican candidate for president, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, who are often referred to as Mormons, came under the spotlight for better or for worse. Journalists began to call this the "Mormon moment."

The "Mormon Moment" has included the presidential candidacies of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Jr. with the ensuing press coverage; unflattering presentations of Mormons in various television shows; an obscene award-winning Broadway musical about Mormons; and a sophisticated ad campaign launched by the LDS Church to show what Mormons are really like. One journalist called the mostly anti-Mormon commentary "the last acceptable bigotry." No one seemed to mind (except for Mormons, of course) that prestigious publications unleashed unsubstantiated diatribes against the Church of Jesus Christ, consistently twisting the doctrines of the LDS Church.

"While this survey comes amid a contentious election campaign, it is not solely or even chiefly about politics," said Luis Lugo, Pew Research Center director, in the published survey's preface. "Rather, we hope that it will contribute to a broader public understanding of Mormons and Mormonism at a time of great interest in both." [2]

The Pew Forum Survey on Mormons in America — Social Views

The Pew Forum survey was conducted between October 25 and Nov. 16, 2011, among a national sample of 1,019 respondents who identified themselves as Mormons. Some long-held ideas about Mormons were substantiated by the survey, while some results were surprising. While American Mormons tend to be politically and socially conservative, they go against the norm by manifesting compassion for immigrants and putting a great amount of value on service to the poor and needy. (Forty-five percent of Mormons say immigrants strengthen the U.S. because of their hard work and talents, while 41 percent say they burden the U.S. by taking American jobs, housing and health care.) It may be because of Mormons' international missionary service that they have compassion for immigrants.

The survey upheld the findings that (unlike virtually every other religion) Mormons who are most active in their faith tend to be the most educated. Although the Church of Jesus Christ is a global church, in America, the population of the Church tends to be mostly white and mostly educated. Other findings include the following:

  • 80 percent said "believing Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ" is essential to being a good Mormon.
  • 73 percent said "working to help the poor" is essential to being a good Mormon.
  • 51 percent said "regular Family Home Evenings."
  • 49 percent said "not drinking coffee and tea."
  • 32 percent said "not watching R-rated movies."
"To be honest, I found the strong sentiment that 'working to help the poor' is essential to being a good Mormon refreshing and a little surprising," said David Campbell, an LDS Church member who is an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame and who consulted with the Pew Research Center on the new survey. "As a Mormon, I would hope it would be that way, but I wasn't sure what to expect. It's good to see the church's genuine compassion for the poor and needy reflected in these numbers."

The above results show that the most outward and obvious traits that set Mormons apart from the general population (avoiding alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, and choosing wholesome entertainment) are not the most important aspects of Mormonism. Spirituality, beliefs, service, family, and covenants, not so readily apparent, are central to Mormon identity.

The report asked Mormons to reflect upon how they are viewed by others, and the results showed that Mormons know they are misunderstood:

  • 62 percent of Mormons think that Americans are generally uninformed about Mormonism.
  • 68 percent feel that they are not viewed as part of mainstream American society.

Mormons tend to be optimistic about becoming more accepted, but they are pessimistic about the general trends in America:

  • 63 percent expressing the belief that Mormonism will eventually become part of mainstream society.
  • 56 percent saying that the American people are ready for a Mormon president.
  • 87 percent say they are satisfied with the way things are going in their own life.
  • 92 percent say their respective communities are excellent (52 percent) or good (40 percent) places to live (this is especially true among Mormons in Utah, of whom 71 percent say their communities are excellent.
  • 75 percent say they are dissatisfied with the way things in America are going.

The fact that Mormons tend to be politically conservative showed up in the survey:

  • 66 percent describe themselves as politically conservative.
  • 74 percent of Mormon voters identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.
  • 75 percent of respondents said they prefer a smaller government providing fewer services to a bigger government providing more services.

Mormons have a high opinion of presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Jr.:

  • Mitt Romney was viewed favorably by 86 percent of all Mormons and 94 percent of Mormon Republicans.
  • Even among Mormon Democrats, 62 percent rated Romney favorably.
  • Jon Huntsman was viewed favorably by 50 percent of Mormon voters.
  • President Barack Obama was viewed favorably by 25 percent of Mormon voters.
  • Mormon senator Harry Reid was viewed favorably by 22 percent of Mormon voters.

Mormons in America — Religious Views

Mormon missionaries
Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
"In terms of religious beliefs and practices, the survey makes it clear that Mormons are highly religious — again, not a big surprise. Eighty-two percent say that religion is very important in their lives, and 77 percent say they believe wholeheartedly in all of the church's teachings. Fully 83 percent say they pray every day, 79 percent say they donate 10 percent of their earnings to the church in tithing and 77 percent say they attend church at least once a week. According to Pew, "Mormons exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than many other religious groups, including white evangelical Protestants." [3]
  • 98 percent say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • 94 percent believe the president of the LDS Church is a prophet of God.
  • 95 percent believe that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies.
  • 94 percent believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings.
  • 91 percent believe that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets.

When Mormons are asked what words best describe them, the most common responses are "Christian" and "Christ-centered." When the American population is asked which words best describe Mormons, however, about half respond that Mormons are NOT Christian or that they are not sure whether Mormons are Christian. Many consider Mormonism a cult, probably mostly due to the teachings of the hundreds of anti-Mormon ministries that exist in America.

Other findings in the Pew Report show that Mormons are against polygamy (some polygamous sects call themselves "Mormon," but they have no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Mormons are also against abortion and extra-marital sex. "Similarly, 65 percent of respondents said that homosexuality should be discouraged by society, compared with 58 percent of the general public who say homosexuality should be accepted by society." Mormons do not believe in gay marriage, but they do uphold other rights for gays, leading to the naming of Salt Lake City as the most gay-friendly city in America. [4]

"The survey also illustrates how important family life is to most members of the LDS Church. Among life's priorities, being a good parent (81 percent) and having a successful marriage (73 percent) place higher than career concerns, having free time or even living a religious life. Some 67 percent of Mormon adults are married (compared with 52 percent of the general public), and 85 percent of them are married to another Mormon...."the study found that Church members subscribe to traditional Christian beliefs, have high moral standards, are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives and communities, are active in serving others and have a profound dedication to family. These results reflect the Church's message that a deep commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ brings lasting happiness." [[5]]

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