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Mormons, Trump and McMullin: A 2016 postmortem by the numbers

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Last year, most Mormon Republicans were unenthusiastic about Donald Trump, to say the least. GOP primaries showed Trump coming in second or even third in Mormon-dominated areas.

Trump won the nomination anyway, much to the consternation of many Latter-day Saints who were concerned about his personal moral standards, his baiting of Muslims, and his hardline stance on immigration.

So it’s little wonder that when orthodox Mormon Evan McMullin emerged as a third-party protest candidate at the eleventh hour, he attracted a groundswell of support. McMullin wound up receiving about 21% of the vote in Utah, while Trump got 46%, according to Utah turnout data.

That was the lowest support any Republican presidential candidate has garnered in Utah in recent memory. In 2008, nearly two-thirds of Utahns voted for the GOP candidate, and in, 2012 – when fellow Mormon Mitt Romney was on the ticket — nearly three-quarters did.

But how many Mormons supported McMullin, and how many eventually rallied around Trump? Moreover, what kind of Mormons supported each candidate? Here, drawing on research from our 2016 Next Mormons Survey, political scientist Benjamin Knoll of Centre College examines some patterns. — JKR

 

Benjamin Knoll

A guest post by Benjamin Knoll

It’s an interesting question: which Mormons voted for McMullin instead of Trump – or for Libertarian Gary Johnson?

We can look at this based on the Next Mormons Survey which was collected throughout the campaign season in September and October of 2016. (It is important to note that this indicates rolling preferences among Mormons throughout the campaign season and not the final vote count.)

First, we can examine candidate preferences based on partisanship:

Mormons’ stated candidate preferences, September and October 2016 Democrats and leaners Pure Independents Republicans and leaners
Donald Trump 9.2% 16.8% 54.2%
Hillary Clinton 70.5% 20.5% 5.5%
Gary Johnson 10.1% 16.6% 11.7%
Jill Stein 3.4% 8.2% 1.3%
Other/none of the above 3.3% 21.7% 12.4%
Evan McMullin 3.5% 16.2% 15.0%
TOTAL 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

 

During the fall campaign, only slightly over half of Mormon Republicans indicated a preference for Donald Trump while 12% preferred Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 15% indicated a preference for Evan McMullin. However, it should be noted that a substantial portion of the survey’s responses had already been collected by the time McMullin’s candidacy because national news in October, so the timing of the survey may be a factor.

Only 6% of Mormon Republicans preferred Hillary Clinton while another 12% indicated someone else or “none of the above.”

Support for McMullin was practically non-existent among Mormon Democrats, so from here on out we’ll focus on the 57% of current Mormons who self-identify as Republicans or Republican-leaners.

LDS respondents were asked to choose between more than a dozen different issues and indicate what they would consider their top three most important problems facing American society today.

 

U.S. Mormon Republicans’ Views on the Most Important issue Facing American Society, by Candidate:

 

TRUMP JOHNSON McMULLIN
Terrorism 42.6% Moral/religious decline 48.5% Moral/religious decline 55.8%
Moral/religious decline 36.8% Ineffective government 34.3 Changing views on traditional family 42.0%
Economic growth 27.4% Changing views on traditional family 33.1% Ineffective government 41.5%
Immigration 26.4% Economic growth 29.9% Health care 28.9%
Crime/violence 25.8% Crime/violence 25.3% Terrorism 24.1%

 

We see that for Mormon Republicans who preferred Donald Trump, terrorism was at the top of their concerns. Terrorism did not make the top 5 for Gary Johnson and came in 5th for McMullin voters.

In contrast, Mormon Republicans who preferred McMullin were most concerned about moral/religious decline and changing views on the traditional family, similar to those who preferred Johnson. Ineffective government was also a strong concern for Johnson and McMullin voters but did not make the Top 5 for Trump voters.

Other questions give us an even deeper picture of the difference between Mormon Republicans who preferred Trump or McMullin:

Views of Mormon Republicans, By Candidate Trump Johnson McMullin
“I have one or more tattoos.” 16.7% 20.0% 2.5%
“I have served in the military.” 15.4% 8.6% 8.5%
“The USA is the greatest country in the world.” 73.1% 65.1% 80.8%
“I prefer a bigger government that provides more services rather than a smaller government that provides fewer services.” 16.6% 11.7% 5.1%
“I see our nation’s increasing racial diversity as an overall positive trend for the future.” 31.0% 42.5% 61.4%
“I think that religious organizations are a great force for good.” 72.7% 82.5% 96.1%
“Same sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states.” 13.5% 24.7% 15.3%
“Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.” 70.6% 69.5% 56.3%
“Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” 61.3% 38.0% 28.1%
“Homosexuality should be discouraged by society.” 67.7% 60.9% 68.7%

 

There are some interesting differences here. Mormon Republicans who preferred McMullin were less likely to have a tattoo and more likely to view religion as a positive force in society. They were also twice as likely as Trump voters to think that racial diversity is a positive trend in America and that immigrants strengthen American society.

Gary Johnson supporters were more likely to support same-sex marriage, but a little less likely to believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society.

Mormon Republicans who preferred Trump were more likely to be military veterans and believe that government is almost always wasteful, similar to those that supported Johnson.

Finally, we used a multivariate regression analysis to determine if there were any demographic or religious characteristics that separated Mormon Republicans in terms of their preferred presidential candidate. We examined age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, state of residence, frequency of church attendance, level of belief in Mormon teachings, current temple recommend status, and whether they believed that the LDS Church should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices or adopt modern beliefs and practices.

The analysis showed that Mormon Republicans backing Trump were 14.5% more likely to be men and 21.8% more likely to live outside of Utah.

Gary Johnson backers were 22.1% more likely to be white as opposed to a racial/ethnic minority, and the youngest Mormon Republicans were 13.3% more likely to back Johnson than the oldest.

Evan McMullin Mormon Republicans were 16.5% more likely to live in Utah and 13.1% more likely to have wholehearted beliefs in Mormon doctrine.

In sum, Mormon Republicans were split into three key camps last fall. Those that preferred Donald Trump tended to be very concerned about terrorism, immigration, and growing racial diversity in America. They were the least likely of all Mormon Republicans to see religious organizations as a force for good, although a majority did so. They also tended to be men living outside of Utah.

Mormon Republicans that preferred McMullin tended to be more devout believers living in Utah who were strongly concerned about moral and religious decline. They were the most likely to view America as the world’s greatest nation and the most likely to view religious institutions positively.

Finally, those who backed Gary Johnson tended to be younger, whiter, and less likely to see the United States as the world’s greatest nation.


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This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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