Former Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert weighed in this week in the Deseret News about the U.S. presidential election, asking: “Are these the two best people that our country has to offer running for the highest office in the land?”

He’s hardly alone among Americans - perhaps especially those who identify as Latter-day Saints. More and more are feeling similarly, according to new data from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) reported by Deseret News journalist Sam Benson earlier this month. That May 2024 survey found 71% of Latter-day Saints saying “neither party represents my views anymore,” which was measurably larger than people from other faith groups (and larger than various other polls surveying Americans as a whole, such as the 52% of Americans who said in a January Ipsos poll they wanted a third choice).

Compared with the 21% of survey respondents who indicate they are unsure about their vote or would support another candidate, approximately 34% of Latter-day Saints in this spring AEI poll were either undecided or opting out of supporting either of the major candidates. Survey director Daniel Cox concluded that “there is no group of voters more dissatisfied with their choices” than Latter-day Saints.

Why do members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appear to be more hesitant than most? The Deseret News spoke with a number of American Latter-day Saints who don’t feel comfortable voting for either of the two major presidential candidates in this November’s election, trying to understand their experiences and concerns.

‘Politically homeless’ Latter-day Saints dissatisfied with 2024 candidates

Both sides falling short

There was a sense from this group of potential voters that both major parties were falling short in ways they could neither overlook nor rationalize. Nathaniel Givens, author with Terryl Givens, senior research fellow at BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship, of “Why Belief Has Always Been Hard ― and Still Is,” describes arriving at feeling “equally skeptical” toward both major parties after watching how they behaved.

“The Democrats claim Trump is an existential threat on democracy,” he said by way of illustration. “But they won’t stop attacking the same institutions.”

After mentioning how many Democrats switched their party affiliation in recent elections to artificially elevate MAGA Republicans and sabotage more moderate Republicans, he said with some exasperation, “There’s no good guys here.”

Data analyst Dallin Crump likewise spoke with dismay about both parties “fighting over who gets to use the government to force everyone else to do what they want” — citing the overreach of presidential authority happening from both parties as an illustrative concern. “Executive orders used to order silverware for the White House.”

Even though Trump and Biden “differ in their rhetoric generally, both represent a kind of illiberal populist approach in policy,” said writer Walker Wright. After mentioning Trump’s “very populist rhetoric that inflames people rather than inspires,” he said, “Biden is softer in rhetoric,” but pointed toward similar anti-trade policies, along with a “gradual creep of the administrative state.”

A thorny moral quandary

Latter-day Saints are “caught in between,” David Campbell, founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame, told Sam Benson. “They feel like they don’t have a home right now in American politics” — comparing it to Catholics who have “beliefs that line up better with the Democratic Party and other beliefs that line up better with the Republican Party.”

Michael Taylor, a civil engineer from northern Utah, described the ethical struggle that arises when the American two-party system “forces us to lump together a host of unrelated political issues which may prove to be strange bedfellows.”

Latter-day Saints in the U.S. are certainly not alone in this quandary, of course. For instance, Hindu journalist Rupa Subramanya wrote recently about her sense of political homelessness in Canada, “I’m Stuck Between the Woke Left and the Nativist Right.”

Latter-day Saints in the U.S. disagree about Trump vs. Biden, but enjoy worship together on Sunday

Sticking to principle

“I decided in 2008 that I would never again vote for the ‘lesser of two evils,’” Crump continued. “Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil.”

“I’m just not able to reconcile and justify it,” he said, while insisting that he doesn’t judge anyone else reaching a different decision. Yet he added, “I have been able to vote with a clear conscience ever since.”

“Neither of them reach a basic standard where I could vote for them without feeling like I’ve compromised too much,” agreed teacher Steve Moody — with Givens musing that resisting imperfect options may be baked into the DNA of a faith that began with Joseph Smith faced with various religious options and being told to “join none of them.”

Crump remembers how much of a revelation it was to learn years ago how many other candidates were actually running. He decided to research them all, including write-in candidates listed on the ballot.

To those who see this as a mere performative gesture or wasted protest vote, Crump cites John Quincy Adams, who once said: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

Artist Esther Hi’ilani Candari described shifting towards more political independence after candidates being nominated by the party she formerly supported “no longer reflected the kind of person I wanted to be, even if their core policies still did align.”

She compares the drift in her formerly comfortable party affiliation to watching someone you grow up “with all the potential in the world … end up hanging out with the wrong friends, and then life becomes a dumpster fire.”

Even though she’s fiscally conservative as a small business owner, Candari is resistant toward both major candidates, but especially the Republican nominee. “I don’t care what good things he might say he puts forward, on principle, I can’t support someone who’s completely devoid of morals and has no remorse for that.”

Jacob Ross likewise registered for the Libertarian Party for the first time in recent years. “I was originally planning on voting for Trump, mainly for economical reasons,” he said. “But I’m no longer convinced that he would be as good for the economy as others think. And I grew tired of the idea that it’s okay to have immoral leaders as long as they make good decisions for the country.”

“Every time I feel like Trump has finally pulled far enough ahead in the ‘Well, that’s disqualifying’ category to maybe make holding my nose for Biden seem worthwhile … I observe something else from Biden that dashes that.”

Struggling to understand

Retired professor Wally Goddard points out that Latter-day Saints have been given some specific guidance on what kind of leaders they should seek, citing restoration scripture: “Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.”

Emily Allen, a Utah mother of five, doesn’t “hate” either candidate but is troubled by Biden’s age and Trump’s disposition, remarking on how the latter is “just mean and divisive … I don’t like anything about the man.”

“I don’t think he has hardly any Latter-day Saint values.”

For this woman, it is “totally mystifying” how the former president has such a large following among fellow believers. “How does this fit into your faith? How does it fit into kindness to people?” she wonders.

Allen has genuinely sought to understand the different perspectives of friends and neighbors. “I can talk with moderates,” she said, but with especially partisan friends, the conversation doesn’t typically “go anywhere” and feels more “us vs. them.”

“Well, you need to look past this and that,” she often hears people say about the major candidates. But she still admits, “I don’t get it.”

Religious voters and the 2024 election

Not being understood either

The incomprehensibility runs in both directions. Robert Hill, a Utah filmmaker, personally can’t embrace either candidate either, which he says is “pretty simple to me” but is “hard to explain to most other people, who are so thoroughly siloed into red team or blue team that many of them simply cannot understand how a good person would not by default already be on their side.”

“If you don’t vote for Republican, you’re voting for the Democratic candidate,” Hill often hears people say. He remarks on how often he hears the election being portrayed “very dramatically,” including language such as “the heart of democracy is at stake” or this is a “battle between good and evil.”

“Both sides seem to be catastrophizing,” Hill concludes. “I don’t know how many people I’ve heard say that if that person wins the election, we won’t have another election.”

This man goes on to say, “most people aren’t voting for their side as much as voting against the others. Since we don’t support good things as often anymore, all the things left are to oppose the bad things.”

“We don’t vote for good candidates, because we’re so busy voting against bad candidates,” Hill continued — highlighting how many discussions he’s noticed are couched in “so that the other guy doesn’t win.”

Within such a politically charged atmosphere, when people find out he’s not voting for either, he said it shocks people, who seem to imply, “I thought you were a good person.”

“If you don’t vote for good guys, then you are complicit,” the message goes — with people pressed to vote for one candidate out of fear of the other. ”If you’re made to believe that your way of life will end if a certain candidate is elected, you can be made to do pretty much anything,” he said, suggesting that people need to be more conscious of when they’re being “manipulated through fear.”

Living in different political universes

It’s remarkable, Hill says, that “depending on which side of the political side you stand on, the world looks completely differently.”

“Maybe that’s why politics is so hard right now,” said podcaster Liz Busby. “The two sides are from such different information universes that it’s exhausting just to try to understand what’s going on.”

Compared with living in Ohio, when “it was fun to feel like my vote really could tip the outcome,” Steve Moody wonders how much his current residence in Utah changes his voting calculus — since he arguably has “the luxury of not voting for either candidate.”

“I can pat myself on the back saying I took a moral stand by not giving into a ‘lesser of two evils’ false choice,” he said. “But in a swing state, would I actually find myself feeling obligated to vote for the least bad candidate?”

Cozy Republicans no more

What’s most striking about these various conversations is the dawning realization among many middle-aged Latter-day Saints that the political world of their parents, where faith was often tightly woven around conservative (Republican) politics in the United States, no longer exists.


“We got complacent associating the political right with religious orthodoxy,” Nathaniel Givens said. “And it’s an important lesson to learn that you can’t just assume that politics are going to be doctrinally correct — because they’re not.”

“That was always the case, but now it’s really obvious. It’s time to grow up.”

“The days when Republican meant faithful are gone,” Givens concluded. “And they’re not coming back.”

This Virginia-based writer points to ways members of the church have been led in this more independent direction by prophetic counsel — from letters on political neutrality each election season, to teaching from President Dallin Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, about voting focused on principles, rather than party affiliation alone.

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