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Op-ed: Perhaps Mormons are the most politically malleable

President Donald Trump speaks to the March for Life participants from the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks to the March for Life participants from the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci

A recent Gallup Poll suggests of all religious groups, Mormons most favorably rate President Trump. In tracking news editorials and social media, for Mormons opposed to Trump, one finds dismay abounding. The picture emerging from the chatter is one of Mormons as a monolithic voting block deaf to considerations other than the Republican Party line.

Yet from what we know of how Mormons voted in the last election, we see vastly more movement in Mormon voting behavior than in any other group (movement away from the Republican candidate). In other words, they were more malleable than the others.

Take a look at Pew Research data. If you average the percentages that voted for the Republican presidential candidate in the prior four elections, Trump:

  • Gained 4 percent of the Catholic vote (that is, as a group, 4 percent more Catholics voted for Trump than had voted for the Republican candidate in the previous four elections [averaged], going from 48 percent to 52 percent of Catholics who voted for the Republican candidate).
  • Gained 4.3 percent of the Evangelical vote.
  • Gained 1.5 percent of the Protestant vote.
  • Gained .25 percent of the Jewish vote.
  • Lost 1.5 percent of the unaffiliated vote. And most interestingly, Trump lost 18 percent of the Mormon vote.

That is, in an era where political affiliation has become a more important identification than almost any other (often including religious identification), Mormons, more than any other group, were willing to abandon the Republican candidate.

Note this drop in the Mormon vote isn’t because presidential candidate Mitt Romney got an inflated number of the Mormon vote in the previous election. In fact, Romney got a lower percentage of the Mormon vote than did Bush in 2004 (78 percent versus 80 percent).

Many Mormons were so dissatisfied with the Republican nominee that an opening was created for an independent candidate to win 21.5 percent of the Utah vote. And this isn’t simply because Evan McMullin (the independent) was Mormon. In 1992, dissatisfaction with the Republican candidate also tested Utah’s reliability as a Republican state. The independent candidate (a non-Mormon) obtained 27 percent of the Utah vote. That year, Utah was more willing than almost any other state to vote for an independent (only two other states voted for the independent more).

Thus, in 2016, a Mormon was more likely to move away from the Republican candidate (Trump) than any voter from all other religious groups (even the religiously unaffiliated) who had voted for a Republican in the previous two presidential elections.

And they may have even done what for some Republicans is “the unthinkable” — vote for a Democrat. From the Pew numbers, Clinton got 3.3 percent more of the Mormon vote. In contrast, every other group went less Democratic in 2016. Catholics went 4.2 percent less Democratic, “others” went 7 percent less Democratic and Evangelicals went 4.5 percent less Democratic. Even the unaffiliated went slightly less Democratic (.2 percent more). In other words, of all religious and nonreligious groups surveyed, Mormons who had previously voted for a Republican appear to have been the most likely to be convinced to vote for a Democrat.

However, as interesting as this is, it doesn’t change the fact that many are still distressed that over 60 percent of Mormons currently approve of Trump. Yet, this isn’t too surprising since 60 percent of Mormons voted for candidate Trump, and candidate Trump is acting no differently from President Trump.

Coming from a long line of Democrats, I understand the distress over the numbers. In Provo decades ago, my grandfather held the Democratic caucus in his living room (with chairs to spare), while the Republicans held their caucus in large auditoriums.

But also as a Latter-day Saint, I find it heartening that we as a group seem to be the most willing, no matter what our political history, to take a second look. Mormons should not be viewed monolithically, but rather as a diverse group willing to take into account more than just how we’ve always voted.

W. Justin Dyer is an assistant professor at Brigham Young University, teaching courses on religion and family. His views should not be taken as representative of BYU or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.