In 2016, Donald Trump’s support among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — typically a strong Republican voting bloc — was historically poor. In 2020, his performance improved, though he still trailed previous GOP nominees.

In 2024, as the former president seeks a second term, does Trump still have a “problem” with Latter-day Saint voters?

A new study from the conservative American Enterprise Institute suggests that he does.

A recent poll conducted by the Survey Center on American Life, a project of AEI, shows that Trump’s support among Latter-day Saints is “deteriorating,” says Daniel A. Cox, the Survey Center’s director.

“It would be difficult to design a Republican candidate less appealing to Latter-day Saint voters than Donald Trump,” Cox writes.

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In the AEI poll, a majority of Latter-day Saints express a negative view of Trump, with 51% saying they have a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view of him. Twice as many Latter-day Saints view him very unfavorably (40%) as those who view him very favorably (19%).

That’s a big contrast from White Evangelical Protestants, with whom Latter-day Saints often appear similar to in public opinion polling dealing with various social issues. Among White Evangelical Protestants, 67% have a favorable view of Trump, and only 19% have a very unfavorable view of him — half of the share of Latter-day Saints.

“In all the ink that’s been spilled trying to figure out what happened to Evangelicals — a constituency that cared so much about candidate character ... that suddenly just flipped when it came to Donald Trump — you didn’t see that same pattern among LDS voters,” Cox told the Deseret News. “They were fairly consistent on the issues that they care about and the way that they evaluated candidates. That’s been a really important story.”

While some younger Latter-day Saints appear to be drifting away from the Republican Party — one demographer called it a “seismic political shift,” among Gen Z and millennial members of the church compared to older ones — the AEI study suggests Latter-day Saints, collectively, still maintain conservative views.

A majority of Latter-day Saints say national news organizations (72%), business and corporations (72%) and colleges and universities (80%) have become more liberal in recent years. Only 26% of Latter-day Saints have a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

But it was the Trump-related questions — or the topics that had bearing on potential support for Trump’s reelection — that showed the sharpest deviations for Latter-day Saints from other conservative demographic groups.

While many conservative Christians link their support for Trump to his positions on abortion and other social issues, Latter-day Saints may take a different approach. When asked if a consistently conservative voting record or an ability to appeal to moderate voters is more important in picking a GOP presidential nominee, the vast majority of Latter-day Saints (73%) chose the latter.

“If there’s a candidate who seems like they can win against Biden ... I think LDS voters are going to give them a real serious look, just because the views of Trump are not all that positive,” Cox said.

Pockets of Latter-day Saints were notably critical of Trump in both 2016 and 2020, though a larger share supported him the second time. Much of this shift can be attributed to Evan McMullin’s independent candidacy in 2016, says David Campbell, the founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame.

“In 2024, if there is not a viable third-party candidate on the ballot, it probably means that 2024 will look a lot like 2020, at least in the general election,” Campbell said.

Campbell points to Trump’s coarseness and scandal-ridden past, as well as his harsh rhetoric toward immigrants and religious minorities, as things that may have dissuaded Latter-day Saints.

Cox also noted Trump is often most popular in areas with low social capital, including involvement in religious and civic communities. American Latter-day Saints, however, “tend to be folks with very high social capital,” Cox said. “They don’t see this real negative view that Trump’s trying to portray — that America is in decline, that it’s one election way from disintegrating.”

The Latter-day Saint vote may become a key voter bloc in the 2024 primary. Both Nevada and Arizona — two states with significant Latter-day Saint populations among Republican voters — are considered swing states. And while the Utah electorate goes well beyond Latter-day Saints, most Republican voters in the state identify as church members.

But in Utah, there is a significant shift based on religious activity: self-described “very active” Latter-day Saints are split on Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (both at 23% support), while “somewhat or not active” Latter-day Saints overwhelmingly back Trump (49%) over DeSantis (19%) or any other candidate, according to the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

Trump’s support within the Utah Republican Party took a hit in the aftermath of the 2020 election. His Utah campaign director jumped ship. Many of his office-holding supporters — both state lawmakers and county chairs — began filing behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. His indictments kept piling up, even as Utahns said “moral character” was what they wanted most in a leader. 

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Even so, the former president continues to dominate the polls nationally, and in Utah, he maintains a lead among his Republican challengers. National polls show him nearly 40 percentage points ahead of DeSantis. In Utah, he has steadily gained ground, from an 11-percentage point deficit in December to an eight-percentage point lead in the August Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll.

The latest Trump indictment could pull voters either way. His first two indictments this year gave him a boost in the polls. However, over half of Republicans say they would not vote for Trump if he ends up convicted.

How does this affect Utahns? If they view Trump’s indictments as a stain on his character, it could spell trouble for Trump. Last month’s Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll asked Utah registered voters what qualities they most want in a leader. Moral character was the first choice, with 33% of respondents. The second was trustworthiness, at 17%.

Although Trump is slowly building a lead among Utah Republicans, polls show he is dramatically less popular in Utah than in any other state that voted for him in 2020. He currently sits at 27% among Utah Republicans; of the states that voted red in 2020 with available polling from the past three months, Trump’s next-lowest showing is in Iowa, where he polls in the low 40s.

It is still early in the election cycle. Utah has yet to become a focus for most GOP candidates — only DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence have visited the state recently. But with six months until Super Tuesday, Trump’s “Utah problem” — and perhaps a “Latter-day Saint problem,” too — appears to be resurfacing for a third-consecutive presidential election cycle.

“There is no reason to think that members of the LDS Church would be more supportive of Trump now or in 2024 than they have in the past,” Campbell said.

Campbell pointed to Trump’s consistency — “in his policy positions, and in his rhetoric and in his approach to politics.”

“If that doesn’t change, I wouldn’t expect a lot of attitudes toward him to change,” Campbell said.