'Mormons in America' Pew survey explores beliefs, attitudes of LDS Church members

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11 2012 10:00 p.m. MST

Billboards in New York City depict images of the "I'm a Mormon" media campaign.

Intellectual Reserve Inc.

Editor's note: This article is the first in a five-part series examining survey findings on Mormons in America. Read the second article here.

Download PDF infographic: "Mormons in America"

As the "Mormon moment" extends into 2012, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life Thursday releases a groundbreaking new survey, the first ever published by a non-LDS research organization to focus exclusively on members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their beliefs, values, perceptions and political preferences.

Entitled "Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society," the survey was conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011, among a national sample of 1,019 respondents who identified themselves as Mormons. The results validate a number of long-held stereotypes (most American Mormons are white, well-educated, politically conservative and religiously observant) while providing a few interesting surprises (care for the poor and needy is high on the list of LDS priorities, while drinking coffee and watching R-rated movies aren't as taboo among the rank and file as you might think).

"While this survey comes amid a contentious election campaign, it is not solely or even chiefly about politics," said Luis Lugo, Pew Research Center director, in the published survey's preface. "Rather, we hope that it will contribute to a broader public understanding of Mormons and Mormonism at a time of great interest in both."

For example, in one very interesting section of the new survey, respondents were asked several questions about what is essential to being a good Mormon. According to the survey, 80 percent said "believing Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ" is essential to being a good Mormon, 73 percent said "working to help the poor," 51 percent said "regular Family Home Evenings," 49 percent said "not drinking coffee and tea" and 32 percent said "not watching R-rated movies.

"To be honest, I found the strong sentiment that 'working to help the poor' is essential to being a good Mormon refreshing and a little surprising," said David Campbell, an LDS Church member who is an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame and who consulted with the Pew Research Center on the new survey. "As a Mormon, I would hope it would be that way, but I wasn't sure what to expect. It's good to see the church's genuine compassion for the poor and needy reflected in these numbers."

People outside the church may or may not be aware of the LDS propensity for compassionate service and other distinctive characteristics. According to the survey, 62 percent of Mormons think that Americans are generally uninformed about Mormonism, and 68 percent feel that they are not viewed as part of mainstream American society. But they remain optimistic, with 63 percent expressing the belief that Mormonism will eventually become part of mainstream society and 56 percent saying that the American people are ready for a Mormon president.

In fact, optimism is one of the themes to emerge from the survey relative to Latter-day Saints. Some 87 percent say they are satisfied with the way things are going in their own life, and 92 percent say their respective communities are excellent (52 percent) or good (40 percent) places to live (this is especially true among Mormons in Utah, of whom 71 percent say their communities are excellent).

But evidently, optimism only goes so far with Mormons.

"I think it is interesting that the respondents are overwhelmingly positive about their communities. They love their communities and everything's fine there," said Marie Cornwall, professor of sociology at Brigham Young University and another advisor to the Pew Research Center on this study. "But when you ask them about the way things are going in the country today, they are overwhelmingly (75 percent) dissatisfied. You would think that their satisfaction with their personal lives would factor into their feelings about how things are going in the country, but there seems to be a total disconnect there."

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