David Campbell on the pros and cons of being a peculiar people at Mormon Media Studies Symposium

Published: Friday, Nov. 9 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

According to Campbell, almost all Americans have an "Aunt Susan," or rather a close relationship with people not of the same faith. According to the study, as people become close friends with people of other faiths, they actually become warmer toward people of the faith represented among their friends and towards people of other faiths not in their circle.

"Why is it that we find Jews and Catholics on top?" Campbell asked. "Turns out there are a lot of Aunt Susans who are Catholic and Aunt Susans who are Jewish. … There are not very many Mormon Aunt Susans. It's because of that sacred tabernacle which Mormons have built. That is one of the cons of being a peculiar people.

"Mormons have a high regard for other Mormons. No group in America today likes themselves more than Mormons. … It's because of the sacred tabernacle, it's because of that sense of identity that Mormons have with one another. … It's a reflection of the fact that Mormons really do feel a strong affinity for their own people and culture."

"This plays out in the bonding of Mormon communities, Campbell said. While some religious groups build bridges outside of their faith, Mormons have a strong tendency to build bonds within their faith, he said.

"There's pretty clear evidence that when Americans know a Mormon and particularly know a Mormon well … their attitudes towards Mormons change," Campbell said.

From a survey conducted in 2008 designed to gauge the reaction of Americans when they learned that Mitt Romney is a member of the LDS Church, Campbell found that people who don’t know a Mormon had a negative reaction, people who have a Mormon who is a close friend or family member had a somewhat negative reaction and those who had a Mormon acquaintance had a highly negative reaction.

Campbell suggested the latter was due to the idea that people with Mormon acquaintances know enough about Mormons to know there is something different about them, but not enough to overcome any suspicions engendered because of that difference.

However, in a survey conducted in October , Campbell found that by the time the general election came around, Romney's religion ceased to matter.

Another survey tested how voters would respond to other political candidates who were identified as LDS. He found that those who don't know a Mormon are most likely to have a negative reaction, those with an acquaintance will have only a slightly negative reaction, while those who know a Mormon well barely move in their reaction.

"Because of the attention paid to Mormonism, Mormonism has not ceased to matter in our politics," said Campbell. Looking at the data, Campbell suggested that the way to change non-Mormons' perception of Mormons is for members to reach out and become close friends, not merely acquaintances, with those outside of their faith.

"The data also suggests that it's not the media that will move attitudes towards Mormons, but rather the development of close personal relationships that Mormons find with their neighbors and friends who also happen to be of another faith," said Campbell.

Email: ajones@desnews.com

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