How Americans feel about Latter-day Saints and other faith groups, according to a new Pew survey
A new Pew Research Center survey investigates how U.S. adults feel about various faith groups, including their own
Pew Research Center released its latest look at the favorability of various faith groups on Wednesday, including members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The new survey showed that, similar to their feelings on some other minority faith groups, a solid majority of U.S. adults feel neutral about Latter-day Saints or feel as if they don’t know enough about the faith group to have an opinion either way.
One quarter of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Latter-day Saints, while 15% express favorable opinions. These results put Latter-day Saints near the same group of faith groups they’ve clustered with in past surveys on Pew’s overall favorability chart.
(Pew uses the terms “Mormons” and “Latter-day Saints” interchangeably in the new report but church members often refer to themselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or just Latter-day Saints.)
The survey also found that a large majority of Latter-day Saints hold a favorable view of fellow members and have a particularly positive view of other groups studied in the survey, including atheists.
Atheists and Muslims were the other two groups with a “balance of opinion” (calculated by subtracting the share of American with unfavorable views from the share with favorable views) below zero.
Meanwhile, Jews, mainline Protestants and Catholics remain quite popular, with the share of Americans who hold favorable views of these faith groups outweighing the share of Americans who hold negative views by at least 15 percentage points, Pew found.
How was the Pew data compiled?
Latter-day Saints, Muslims and atheists were clustered together around the 50-degree mark of the “feeling thermometer” that Pew used to study American attitudes toward various faith groups in 2014 and 2017. In those studies, respondents were asked to rate their feelings for the groups on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being the most negative.
In the new survey, Pew adopted a different approach, asking respondents to say whether their views toward each faith group in the study are “very favorable,” “somewhat favorable,” “neither favorable nor unfavorable,” “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable.” Participants could also declare that they “don’t know enough to say.”
The new survey design allowed researchers to “separate out people who have a neutral opinion,” said Patricia Tevington, a research associate for Pew. As it turns out, many Americans fall into that camp.
“There’s a plurality of people who don’t register an opinion when it comes to these groups,” Tevington said. For example, 59% of U.S. adults are neutral or don’t know enough to have an opinion on Latter-day Saints.
Researchers were also able to separate out responses from the members of each faith group studied to show how the group’s overall score changed without those responses. Generally, groups had less positive results after the separation, Tevington noted.
“Religious groups by and large have pretty favorable views of themselves,” she said.
That’s true for Latter-day Saints, according to the new report. But there aren’t enough Latter-day Saints in the United States for this positivity to meaningfully pull up the group’s overall score, Tevington said.
The group of evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, is big enough to notably affect their faith group’s results.
“Overall, similar shares of the whole public say they view evangelical Christians favorably (28%) and unfavorably (27%). But among Americans who are not themselves born-again or evangelical Protestants, the balance of opinion is much more negative (32% unfavorable vs. 18% favorable),” Pew reported.
How a faith group’s size impacts the data
A faith group’s size also helps determine how many Americans know one of its members, which, in turn, affects how the group is viewed. Americans who personally know a Catholic, Muslim or member of another faith group generally view Catholics, Muslims and members of that other faith group, as a whole, more favorably, Tevington said.
“For example, about 4 in 10 non-Jews who know a Jewish person (42%) express positive views of Jews, double the share among non-Jews who do not personally know someone in this religious group (21%),” Pew reported. “However, the share of non-Jews who express a negative view toward Jews is similar regardless of whether they know someone who is Jewish or do not (6% and 7%, respectively).”
This pattern, like positive self-ratings, can give a favorability boost to larger faith groups.
Other findings from the Pew report
Here are some other notable takeaways from the report:
- Only 6% of U.S. adults have an unfavorable view of Jews, while more than one-third (35%) have a favorable view, Pew found. That balance of opinion (+28 percentage points) makes Jews the most popular faith group among the groups that Pew studied.
- Jews’ favorability rating is notable given that the U.S. is currently witnessing a surge in antisemitic attacks. Just this week, the FBI reported that the annual number of hate crimes targeting Jews grew by nearly 20% from 2020 to 2021, as Jewish Insider reported.
- Pew’s survey exposed “striking differences” between the views of Republicans and Democrats, according to Tevington. A larger share of Republicans and those who lean Republican than Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party hold favorable views of mainline Protestants (35% vs. 22%), Catholics (32% vs. 22%) and evangelical Protestants (27% vs. 13%). But a smaller share of Republicans than Democrats hold favorable views of Muslims and atheists, Pew found.
- Republicans and Democrats alike are more likely to hold positive than negative opinions of Jews. “About 4 in 10 Republicans say they see Jews positively (38%), as do one-third of Democrats (33%). Identical shares view them negatively (6% each),” Pew reported.
- Americans, overall, are not as negative as you might think. Four in 10 (41%) do not hold unfavorable views of any of the groups Pew studied. Around one-quarter (24%) hold unfavorable views of only one of the groups studied.
Pew’s findings are based on a survey of 10,588 U.S. adults conducted online from Sept. 13-18, 2022. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.