Young, Mormon, and Republican

RepublicanThere’s an old stereotype that says Americans get more conservative as we get older. First we start voting for a few more Republican candidates because we finally have a little set aside that we want to protect from taxes, and then before we know it we have become that crotchety old man yelling at kids to get off our lawn.

It turns out that statistically, the stereotype is partly true. Many people do get more conservative, at least politically if not always socially, as they age.

Unless they are Mormons who grew up within the last few decades.

In Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics, David Campbell, John C. Green and J. Quin Monson draw on an army of data to explain past and current political trends in Mormonism, including this one. They write:

In general, as age increases do does the probability of identifying as a Republican. Strikingly, we see the opposite trend for Mormons. Older Mormons (over sixty-five) are less likely to favor the Republican Party (51 percent) than Mormons under thirty (69 percent), presumably reflecting the fact that during their formative political years, these Mormons were more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than they are today. (p. 86)

After I read this, and after I stopped weeping profusely into my Sprite, I spoke with two of the three authors to find out more.

RNS: Um, say what? There’s really almost a 20-point increase in the percentage of younger Mormons who identify as Republican?

Seeking the Promised LandDave Campbell, Notre Dame: Here’s the story. Originally, starting with Utah’s statehood, Mormons were Democrats because the Republicans had wanted to stamp out Mormonism. Over the course of the 20th century, Mormons became bipartisan. And about the time we get to the early 1980s, we see this shift.

Quin Monson, BYU: Well, you do see it in the 80s with the election of a bunch of Republicans in places like Utah, but the shift [toward a Republican affiliation] was gradual beginning after World War II.

Campbell: Today, that evidence exists among old Mormons. If you look at Mormons who came of political age in the 1950s and 60s, they are far more likely to be Democrats than young Mormons. That is exactly the opposite of the rest of the population, where the young are the Democrats.

Monson: It’s the New Deal FDR Democrats who are still hanging on, but they won’t be with us that much longer. The shift toward leaning Republican has continued in the 1990s and the 21st century. Mormons are going to become even more Republican with time.

RNS: You say in the book that people tend to follow their parents’ political affiliation. Is that even more true among young Mormons these days?

Campbell: That’s known as the socialization theory of partisan affiliation. My back-of-the-envelope guesstimate would be around 75 percent stay with their parents’ tradition. Kids generally inherit the party affiliation of their parents.

Monson: And among Mormons, we have to consider all the reinforcing influences that are in the culture. We place so much emphasis on the family in Mormonism, so I think you would see an even higher level of respect and deference for parents and their political views, but there isn’t data yet to allow us to nail this down for sure.

RNS: Do you foresee any situation in which the trend might change, and more young Mormon adults would start veering toward the Democratic Party?

Monson: There are two moving parts there—what the political parties are doing, and what Church leaders are emphasizing. This is how Mormons became so Republican in the first place: that there were issues that Church leaders began putting a heavy emphasis on, like the traditional family. One of those might be, in the future, the way we emphasize caring for the poor. If that were emphasized we might see a different kind of [political] alignment over time.

RNS: Like with Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk from this month’s General Conference?

Monson: Yes. But it would have to happen repeatedly, again and again over a period of years. If you look at the church magazines and publications from the last forty years, you would see lots of articles pointing members toward a conservative stance on family issues. There are a few that also talk about social issues, but it’s far fewer in number.





  1. I guess I would be a little surprised if an increased emphasis on caring for the poor pushed Mormons toward the Democratic Party. It’s been observed repeatedly in the data that Republicans give considerably more in time and money to charitable causes than do Democrats, and conservatives more than liberals as well. This finding has proven very robust in the US.

    I would agree, I suppose, that Democrats probably talk publicly about helping the poor more than Republicans do. It’s possible an increased emphasis on caring for the poor will lead Mormons to talk more about poverty but do less to alleviate it. Then, yeah, you might see some movement to the left.

  2. Giving to charitable causes and caring for the poor are two very different things! The vast majority of charitable contributions have nothing to do with attempting to reduce poverty. They are for health research, the arts, political causes, etc., etc. For instance, fast offerings help the poor, but tithing (by and large) does not. But both count as charitable contributions.

    I personally have never identified as either Republican or Democrat. In my opinion both parties are equally off-course when it comes to the gospel. So it’s disturbing to me that so many members identify as Republican (and I’d feel the same if the majority were Democrats!).

  3. I think this is funny. When younger and living in the east coast I was Republican.
    I’m older (50) and live in Utah and now Democrat. Pretty sure living here with all these Mormons did that. Oh, and I’m also Mormon.

  4. Among the generally devout, I see the deep, passionate, partisan divide over social issues making it very difficult for a majority of LDS of any age to drift leftward a whole lot. And while some on the political left may believe that, having possibly lost the culture war, a shift in emphasis to humanitarian issues could result in a shifting LDS political tide as well, there’s still the matter of how Mormons have largely viewed the role of governments versus individual agency in helping those in need.

    President Howard W. Hunter once taught:

    What is the real cause of this trend toward the welfare state, toward more socialism? In the last analysis, in my judgment, it is personal unrighteousness. When people do not use their freedoms responsibly and righteously, they will gradually lose these freedoms.

    If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through “a democratic process” he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots.” Both have lost their freedom. Those who “have,” lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who “have not,” lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got “something for nothing,” and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.
    Under this climate, people gradually become blind to what has happened and to the vital freedoms which they have lost.

    (Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 169.)

    Some Latter-day Saints will read the above and feel quite justified in supporting Democrat-style redistribution politics, asserting that President Hunter described our present day, as one in which people do not do what they should of their own accord, therefore government needs to step in to do the right thing. Others will respond that Hunter is clearly describing an undesirable state of affairs, and thus passionately argue against government programs while promoting an increase in personal involvement in aiding those around us. Ironically, everyone on both sides actually seeks the same ultimate outcome – that people with needs are cared for. It is really more a question of strategy and balancing agency with compulsion. Nobody ever asks whether or not we like our tax dollars funding aircraft carriers either, albeit national defense is a constitutionally directed federal responsibility.

  5. I’m Mormon, 30 years old, have a masters degree, and I completely reject politics. Republican or Democrat makes no difference. All politicians are crooks in my book. Many of my friends also feel the same way. So perhaps it isn’t that some groups are ‘switching’ from one party to another. There are those of us who simple abandon any political leanings at all, and see it for the charade it is.

  6. Author

    Max, you raise another demographic shift that I didn’t have the space to address in the post, which is the growing tendency of Americans to declare themselves as independent voters. In 2011, independents had grown to 34% of registered voters. I can’t but think that the government shutdown and pervasive partisan bickering has meant that the percentage has grown even more since then.


  7. Author

    I agree that too much affiliation with any one political party is a recipe for disaster. We need many different viewpoints in the Church, and a healthy political diversity. When I said I was weeping about so many Mormons being Republican, I should have also said that this was not just because I tend to vote as a Democrat myself!

  8. Jana, I wonder how many people declare themselves “independent” because they lack the courage to openly espouse their true views for fear of reprisal. There seems to be a certain air of moral superiority which accompanies the outward refusal to align with either party, even if the behavior at the ballot box is largely aligned with one side or the other, thus there are social rewards for appearing “independent.”

  9. I see no increased emphasis in the church on caring for the poor. The emphasis is about as minuscule as it’s always been. The major emphasis still is, as it always has been, on obeying church leaders.

  10. Fred wrote: “For instance, fast offerings help the poor….”

    Fred, last time I looked at a donation slip it said the church is under no obligation to use donations according to the wishes of the person making the contribution, and that the church reserves the right to use all donations pretty much anyway they like.

    And since the church doesn’t make their financial statements available to the public, and there’s no independent accountability, you can’t say for certain if they use Fast Offerings for the poor, or use them to build mega malls.

  11. Tom W,
    I think you’re right about that. I’m a 35 year old “independent”. But my reasons for claiming that don’t have much to do with superiority. Exactly the opposite actually. I refuse to become a “member” of any one line of thinking because I see BOTH parties basking in what seems to be a sort of superiority complex. It’s the same reason that I struggle with the elitist attitude of so many people in the church (although I’m an active member). Honestly, if I ever decided to express my liberal views at church, there’s no question Id get smacked down with a serious tongue lashing. I know because I’ve seen it happen. Wasn’t pretty.

  12. In fairness, Debbie, there has been in recent years a distinct added emphasis on care for the poor and needy, with the “threefold mission of the church” having been expanded to include this as a fourth, and this in addition to the fact that the church already emphasizes generosity in fast offerings which are used exclusively to help those who are poor among us. Just because we can do more doesn’t mean we should take for granted and count as naught that which we already do well.

    I’ve personally been through difficult times of unemployment and underemployment where the generosity of my fellow Latter-day Saints made it possible to keep a roof over my family’s heads, the water and electricity from being shut off, and food on our table. I’m grateful to now be in a position to be on the helping end. Soon I’m sure we’ll be asked at the local level to provide additional assistance to families in the form of gift cards to places like Target and Walmart so that parents in need can have a little nicer Christmas with their children – all of it handled discreetly through the bishop and Relief Society President, and off the normal financial records because there’s no methodology to account for such things on a tithing slip.

    It also bears mentioning that if we truly strive to be obedient to our church leaders, and not just give lip service to it on Sundays or when we sometimes mindlessly raise our hands to sustain people who we do not necessarily earnestly sustain, we will be more generous in our offerings, whether via a church-directed contribution slip, private personal initiative, or both. The Old Testament teaches us that it is better to be obedient than to sacrifice, but the fact of the matter is that real obedience encompasses sacrifice as well.

  13. This would be hard to prove one way or the other, but, as one anecdotal example, I am a registered Independent who has voted in eight presidential elections. Four times Republican, four times Democratic. Maybe that makes me wishy-washy, but I just vote for the candidate, not strictly along party lines. As far as “a certain air of moral superiority”–I think there’s a lot of that going around, no matter what your voter registration status…

  14. Yes, Debbie, the church reserves the right to divert contributions to other needs if necessary. But the objection to this isn’t so much an accounting/finance issue as it is a testimony issue. If one believes, as I do, that the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Relief Society Presidency, and Presiding Bishopric are indeed called of God, then I am satisfied that their stewardship over the funds of the church is honorable. They are not answerable to me to provide a detailed accounting, they are answerable to the Lord. I can understand one’s misgivings if one does not believe as I do, but for such a person even 100% disclosure with personal access to every jot and tittle of the financial records will not solve their underlying mistrust of the Lord’s anointed. Nothing will.

  15. Annie, living in the Bay Area of California as I do, I think labeling oneself as “independent” provides cover both for conservatives as well as folks who lean liberal but do not fully align with the politics of the left. Rather than be outed as a pariah Republican (especially if one supported Prop 8, which can lead to persecution of a magnitude to destroy one’s career), the concept of being “independent” is a safe haven. For that matter, claiming to lean “libertarian” is generally enough to cool the heat.

    But your post reminded me that the exact opposite dynamic can exist in a place like Utah, where “independent” could likewise provide a measure of cover for liberals or those with moderate conservative views. In a state like that, being an out-of-the-closet liberal could have social consequences with one’s peers. And once again, the “libertarian” banner could also function as an alternative safe haven.

  16. If you do a search of LDS publications, and look at the relative frequency of talks about helping the poor, compared with obeying the leadership, I think you’ll find there’s been no statistically significant change in the ratio.

  17. If you believe, as you do, then logic, reason, and rational thought fly out the window. The prophet can do and say anything he wants and nobody will ever question him.

    If you’re going to do that, you should at least recognize that it’s the same sort of behavior one finds in any cult. The leader is always followed without question.

  18. Perhaps, Debbie, Latter-day Saints in general are doing a far better job at helping the poor than they do obeying the Lord’s anointed overall.

  19. I understand the sentiment regarding independent *public* accountability with regard to the Church’s finances. But the Church does have strict internal accountability, and anyone who has been in a stake presidency, bishopric, Relief Society presidency, YM/YW presidency, Scouts, or a clerk calling knows how a lot of the money is spent because they are the ones specnding it or at least deciding how it will be spent.

    With specific regard to fast offerings, I have had substanitial personal experience with helping administer those funds. As opposed to tithing which goes to Church headquarters, fast offerings are kept at the ward level and are only used for helping those in need. **100% of the fast offerings are used to help the poor and needy** That the funds are used to help the poor and needy is verified by at least two bishopric members being required to administer these funds, and an audit by an accountant called by each stake to work as the stake auditor to ensure there is proper documentation for each transaction. My experience has been, and I would suspect in most wards it is the same, that these funds are used to help several individuals and families each month, and many times several individuals and families each week.

    With regard to helping those in financial need more generally – separate from helping everyone with their spiritual needs, which is arguably the main purpose of any Church, LDS or other – I was very happy when the church added it as the fourth official mission of the Church. I think it was sorely needed and had been a vocal advocate for it. I believe extreme wealth disparity is one of the greatest evils of our day (important to note for this discussion that I am a staunch Republican). But I don’t believe it was needed because the LDS Church or its members don’t do much compared to your average church or average person. We teach people to be financially responsible and to get an education, subsidize tens of thousands of kids’ educations per year, direct humanitarian and fast offering funds, and provide countless opporunities to serve others without payment. I am not sure that people appreciate enough what benefit this type of teaching and emphasis performs.

  20. Debbie, can Jesus do and say anything He wants without being questioned by those professing to be His disciples? Latter-day Saints believe that the living prophet, when moved upon by the Spirit, guides us as the Lord would guide us. By all means, if the prophet tells you to jump off a cliff, give it a little thought before leaping. But rarely (if ever) does the Lord’s prophet direct us to do anything where there is much risk to anything other than our egos and pride.

  21. People on both sides of the partisan debate *say* they care about the poor.

    But, as James said, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

    If you compare legislation proposed by Republicans with that proposed by Democrats, there’s simply no question that Democrats care more about the poor. This is especially true when you look at Republican efforts to disenfranchise the rights of poor people to vote, and to take away much-needed nutritional assistance for women and children. With hardly any exceptions, every time food&nutrition subsidies are taken away from the needy, it’s Republican legislation and activism that’s at the root of the effort.

  22. Easy for Debbie to say yet she does not provide the statistics herself. Evidently, it is her “feeling” that the statistical count is low and has not changed. There is none of us that will bother to check her so her claim goes undisputed and she feels good and justified for complaining.

  23. I am glad you recognize that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a cult. The fact is not once has any “leader” of this Church asked the membership to follow them without logic, reason, and rational thought, and prayer.

  24. Debbie, you are confusing “acts” of caring for the poor with partisan politics about helping the poor, and there’s a profound difference.

    Voting for politicians who seek to compel citizens to fund their ‘charitable’ projects through tax dollars doesn’t mean you care more. It means you see the ship of state as the best means of addressing the need, which is a perfectly legitimate political position to take if you want. Those who prefer alternative means may be just as caring as anyone else.

    In a 2011 column, Penn Jillette wrote:

    “It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

    “People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.” (

    You’re right, Debbie, that it is what we do and not what we say that matters. But preferring that things get done by pulling the levers of government doesn’t make one more or less caring than those who believe in alternative means.

  25. Republicans, on average, donate more time and money to charity than Democrats.

    To be fair, as Debbie pointed out, Democrats are far more generous with other peoples’ money. 😉

  26. Penn Jillette echoes what I hear many Republicans say–that tax-based social welfare programs (guns?) is not charity, because it is “forced.” But I would argue, it all depends what is in your heart. If you feel good about paying taxes that might go to help the poor, then you do not feel “forced,” you feel it is a cost of a having a civil society. If you resent paying taxes which fund social welfare programs, then you feel forced. There is no industrialized, civil society which depends solely on charity. We’re it not for our social welfare programs we would be stepping over the bodies of the elderly and indigent.

    We frequently hear Republicans refer to people getting assistance as “just looking for a handout” ie. being lazy. So it isn’t just that Republicans favor different methods, they look at the poor differently than do Democrats.

  27. “Fast offerings kept at ward level”

    Has this changed in the past 7 yrs? When my spouse was a counselor in the bishopric, if the ward fast offerings were not used within a matter of months–they got sent to SLC. One time a family had a crisis and needed more help than the monthly amount contributed to fast offerings. My husband then had to pull together the records for the past 12 months, showing that the ward had collected far more fast offerings than disbursed.

  28. Is that because Republicans donate more to churches? A study done at Indiana University Center on Philanthropy found that only a small percentage of money collected by churches goes to the poor. That is true of the LDS church as well. LDS tithing does not go to help the poor, but for building churches and temples, education etc.

    One problem is, as a society we are becoming more self-segregated by class and political leanings. The upper and upper middle class can live their lives without interfacing with the indigent. Studies have shown that the poor and lower middle class are the most charitable.

  29. If I remember correctly, the funds first remain at the ward level as needed. Next they go to the stake level as needed. Lastly they go to the general level as needed. If one lives in an affluent area, why wouldn’t one want to see one’s fast offerings helping people in less affluent areas outside one’s own ward and stake? Nonetheless, one would be surprised how much need there can be in a fairly affluent area as well.

  30. Well, if you are seriously interested in studies rather than anecdotes…


    This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.

    Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.

    Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

    Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so.

    The upshot is that Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less money to charity than Republicans — the ones who try to cut health insurance for children.

    “When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Note that the above wasn’t written by a conservative Fox News pundit, but rather by liberal New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristoff, who confesses, “We liberals are personally stingy.”

    And he openly confesses that liberals are quite generous . . . with other people’s money.

    Studies can indeed be useful…

  31. Tom,
    I’m well acquainted with Kristof and this particular article. He is just regurgitating Brooks without looking at other studies.

    I have another one for your consideration which states, among other things,

    “John Havens, associate director of Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, points out that once you correct for cost of living, the San Franciscan family earns only 15 percent more than the South Dakotan. Indeed, in the Boston College center’s ranking of states by personal generosity — a ranking that corrects for cost of living and tax burden — blue states do fine: Of the top five states, four — New York, California, Connecticut, and Maryland — are blue.”

    Can you provide an example anywhere in the world that relys on a voluntary charity system successfully?

  32. I find it ironic that your studies take into account the tax burden as an excuse for the poor personal charity of liberals, when they themselves are responsible for creating the tax climate which makes them such poor givers collectively.

    In either case, the Brooks study goes deeper into all aspects of charity, including personal acts of service and even giving blood.

    And the bottom line remains, there is no special morality or goodness in being generous with other people’s money. Further, there is certainly no evidence that being generous with other people’s money means that one cares more for one’s fellow man.

  33. That’s a winning accusation–it worked well for Mitt Romney!

    Say what you will, I’m open to hearing your ideas for how to address poverty in this country.

    The LDS “welfare” system is also less than perfect. I’ve seen people “abuse” that system as well, yet no one is calling for it to be abolished. I’ve also been responsible for enlisting help for church members in need of assistance. Sometimes it is really difficult to find others willing to help, often it is the same handful of people who contribute the most monetarily and in dedication of time.

    On the topic of political party affiliation:
    I wonder if the U.S. LDS church is less politically diverse since the largest majority of members come from the intermountain west (UT) and a large percentage attending or having attended BYU.

    As for me, raised in a staunchly Republican, LDS home, registered Independent until 2006, now a registered Democrat as a result of the rise of the extremists–Tea Partiers– within the Republican Party. I wonder how many of registered Independents were formerly registered Republicans?

  34. The best cure for poverty is strong intact families, education, and employment. The Great Society was a disaster for families, particularly minority families. Teachers unions have stifled education reform, putting their personal interests above the needs of students. And oppressive government policies strangle employment rates and earnings. Fix these and you’ll go a long way toward fixing poverty.

  35. Maddy,

    I am not aware of policy regarding fast offerings changing recently. Yes, as TomW says, my understanding is that fast offerings can move up to the Stake and Regional level if the ward funds collect substanitally and past ward history shows a low likelihood of using it. They are then used for helping the poor in the Stake or Region.

    In my experience during 2008-2010 when the financial crisis hit Las Vegas very hard, my ward was almost always in the red in fast offerings. Money needed to help people exceeded the intake, and not because we didn’t have many VERY generous fast offering contributions. We helped several non-members, and many in that special group of non-active members who seem to find their faith when they are in a financial hole, only to lose it again when they have been helped climb back out. But the direction from above was to help anyone who needed help, so we did. And no one ever made us feel we needed to justify the ward’s generosity when we were needing extra funds from the Stake to cover our disbursements.

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