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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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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.

12 Comments

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  • Religious/moral decline is listed as a political issue. How do Mormons envision the government “fixing” it?

  • As an LDS Democrat, I switched parties years ago seeing the hypocrisy of republicans. Democrats have problems but at least they look out for the little guy on occasion. They also recognize climate change. I was appalled at how members justified voting for Trump. I mean, he is not even a conservative which is what they are supposed to believe in. He is a walking cluster ####. It showed how easily members can be duped.

  • ridiculous. Evan McMullin was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He has since been found out. Dude has 2 moms and doesn’t take a stand on same-sex marriage…gee I wonder why. He actively roots for the illegal leaking by the deep state against President Trump. Evan was an embarrassment and is done. He should spend his time looking for a wife (assuming he swings that way) and less time crying about the country, including Utah, elected Donald Trump president.

  • Evan McMullin does not have “2 moms”. He was raised in a typical lds home and his mom has since chosen a different lifestyle, which is within her agency to do whether one agrees with it or not. McMullin many times declared his belief in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. When has Trump asserted that he will reverse the legality of same-sex marriage? What has he proposed to do? He’s done nothing, and intends to do nothing, because most political leaders recognize that whether certain people agree with same-sex marriage or not, the majority of Americans support it and want it. So to use that as an example of McMullin being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is hypocritical considering your candidate is doing nothing about it either. But your words and your vitriol certainly show that what this article typifies as a trump supporter is pretty spot on. I’m proud to not have lowered my standards this election simply because someone had an “R” next to their name.

  • I belong to an LDS Democrat group on Facebook who oppose all that Trump stands for. people like them should be praised but the majority of members support him. Go figure how they can be so gullible.

  • You really think that because Donald Trump is objectionable, LDS conservatives should suddenly become supportive of the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates? I think that is a big ask. The Democratic Party and the left are at odds with the LDS Church and its membership on most major issues. I voted for Evan McMullin and I don’t live in Utah.

  • To begin,your assumption is wrong. Both major parties in theory have things in alignment with the gospel. The republican party has moved away from them in many ways and Trump is not a conservative. He said he was becuase only conservatives have a large whtie bigoted base that would be easy for him to lie to. McMullin was clearly better than Trump.

  • I agree with you, although I do not agree with the broad generalization that Trump supporters are largely bigoted. It may not be correct, but the perception is that the Republican Party is more inline with LDS values. That is the perception amongst the vast majority of LDS voters, even in more liberal areas like the community that I live in.

  • I agree the culture we live in (Mormonism) says the Republican party is in line with gospel. In the second half of the twentieth century the christian right started a campaign to influence public policy by aligning itself with the Republican party. Because of racist ideology,they were opposed to desegregation. Some of our leaders such as Benson got swept up in this indoctrination and many members now think the Democrats are the party of the Devil and Republicans are with God. This idea came about as a result of a coordinated campaign. It did not come from God as a revelation and in truth was an indoctrination campaign by the christian right which has many hatefully elements to it.In fact, if the Church wants to truly be world wide, they will need to denounce this and accept many forms of government. In the end, most U.S members aligned with Trump. That is disturbing on so many levels and speaks to major change of thought that needs to take place with U.S members.

  • Well, you might not have “lowered your standards” to vote for Trump but you, from a practical standpoint REALLY lowered your standards to vote for that felon, Hillary. Thus, you support abortionists, the destruction of the traditional family, even the required changing of LDS doctrine. Hillary said that churches need to change their doctrine to accommodate sodomites. That is who YOU voted for, whether you voted for her or for no-chance 2-mommies weird-as-hell Evan.

  • Funny you should mention voting for Hillary, because statistics from the election showed that overwhelmingly those that voted 3rd party actually hurt Hillary’s campaign more than trump’s. So – in a somewhat sad sense – you’re welcome. But also funny is that you make the assumption that Hillary was so much worse than trump. He was actually pro-abortion prior to the election and even into the election in the beginning did not take a stand against it. It wasn’t until he figured out that his largest group of supporters were from the religious right (who all assumed he was pro-life because he’s “republican”) that he officially came out “pro-life”. Once again though, what has he done except talk big with no action on that front? The only thing he did was in the beginning of his presidency declare one state to have the right to choose whether abortion would be outlawed or not (something that is already established in the Constitution – not specifically regarding abortion, but states having rights) so wow, big accomplishment. And yes, he’s so pro-family that he’s decided to populate the world with 3 women, all the while checking out others and talking in an oh-so-doctrinally-sound manner about their intimate parts. You must be real proud also of his racist history and recent failure to condemn white nationalists. Since, you know, that’s exactly what the gospel teaches. So yeah, someone who actually lives the values of the church was such a horrible choice if I truly believe in the doctrine of the church, right? So glad you straightened that out for me.

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