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

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

It should be noted that the Mormon view of how things are going in the country today closely resembles the view of the American public as a whole, among whom 78 percent said they were dissatisfied in an October 2011 Pew Research Center survey.

Generally speaking, the new survey looks at Mormons and their perspectives in four key areas: politics and ideology, religious beliefs and practices, cultural and moral issues and family life.

Politically, there are few surprises. Most Mormons (66 percent) describe themselves as politically conservative, and 74 percent of Mormon voters identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. Philosophically, 75 percent of respondents said they prefer a smaller government providing fewer services to a bigger government providing more services.

Among a number of politicians currently in the spotlight, Mitt Romney is a favorite, being viewed favorably by 86 percent of all Mormons and 94 percent of Mormon Republicans. Even among Mormon Democrats, 62 percent rate Romney favorably.

The other Mormon running for president, Jon Huntsman, is viewed favorably by 50 percent of Mormon voters, while President Barack Obama is viewed favorably by 25 percent — slightly ahead of the rating Mormons bestowed upon another one of their own: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (22 percent).

Interestingly, Latter-day Saints seem to be somewhat divided on the issue of immigration. They are fairly evenly split on whether immigrants strengthen the U.S. because of their hard work and talents (45 percent) or burden the U.S. by taking American jobs, housing and health care (41 percent).

Campbell, who is an expert in the field of religion, politics and civic engagement, said he wasn't surprised by that result.

"Although Mormons are caricatured as being really right wing, on the issue of immigration they are not," he said. "The church itself has been quite a voice of moderation on this issue, and that has resulted in Mormons being more positive toward immigrants than other conservative religious groups tend to be."

Campbell suggests that the LDS Church's missionary program has something to do with that, with Latter-day Saints tending to develop a broader worldview as a result of their missionary service around the world. In any event, he said, "this result really does cut against the stereotype."

In terms of religious beliefs and practices, the survey makes it clear that Mormons are highly religious — again, not a big surprise. Eighty-two percent say that religion is very important in their lives, and 77 percent say they believe wholeheartedly in all of the church's teachings. Fully 83 percent say they pray every day, 79 percent say they donate 10 percent of their earnings to the church in tithing and 77 percent say they attend church at least once a week. According to Pew, "Mormons exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than many other religious groups, including white evangelical Protestants."

Looking at basic, core religious beliefs, 98 percent say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 94 percent believe the president of the LDS Church is a prophet of God, 95 percent believe that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies, 94 percent believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings and 91 percent believe that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets.

Clearly, Mormons are believers.

But are they Christian? Ninety-seven percent of Mormons think so. And when asked to volunteer the one word that best describes Mormons, the most common responses were "Christian" and "Christ-centered." By way of contrast, a November Pew Research Center survey found that nearly half (49 percent) of non-Mormon U.S. adults say that Mormonism is NOT Christian or that they are unsure whether or not it is Christian. In that same survey, when respondents were asked for one word that best describes the LDS Church, the most commonly offered response was "cult."

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