Washington, D.C. – With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Jr. vying for the GOP presidential nomination, a popular Broadway musical about Mormons, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) running an extensive television campaign featuring ordinary Mormons, many say that America is in the midst of a “Mormon moment.” But how do Mormons themselves, who make up nearly 2% of the U.S. public, feel about the media spotlight, the election campaign and their place in America? In the first nationally representative survey focused exclusively on Mormons ever published by a non-LDS research organization, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds a mixed picture. Many Mormons feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against and not accepted by other Americans as part of mainstream society. Yet, at the same time, a majority of Mormons think that acceptance of Mormonism is rising. Overwhelmingly, they are satisfied with their lives and content with their communities. And most say they think the country is ready to elect a Mormon president.
Conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011, among a national sample of 1,019 respondents who currently describe their religion as Mormon, the comprehensive survey, Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society, explores Mormons’ religious beliefs and practices, political ideology, views on moral and social issues, and attitudes toward faith, family life, the media and society.
Six-in-ten Mormons (62%) say the American people as a whole are uninformed about Mormonism. Nearly half (46%) say that Mormons face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today – which is higher than the percentage who say the same about blacks (31%) and atheists (13%). Two-thirds (68%) say the American people as a whole do not see Mormonism as part of mainstream American society. And when asked to describe in their own words the most important problems facing Mormons living in the United States today, 56% cite misperceptions about Mormonism, discrimination, lack of acceptance in American society and the like.
Yet most U.S. Mormons also think acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise, with 63% saying the American people are becoming more likely to see Mormonism as part of mainstream society. And 56% of those surveyed say the American people are ready for a Mormon president.
Additional key findings include:
- Mormons share many of the religious practices and beliefs of traditional Christianity. Three-quarters of Mormons (77%) say they attend religious services at least once a week, 79% say they donate 10% of their earnings to the church, 83% say they pray every day and fully 98% say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
- There are a number of tenets that are central to the teachings of the LDS Church and widely accepted by Mormons that are distinct from traditional Christianity. Nine-in-ten Mormons believe that the president of the LDS Church is a prophet of God (94%) and that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets (91%). Similarly large numbers believe that families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies (95%) and that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings (94%).
- Mormons are nearly unanimous in describing Mormonism as a Christian religion, with 97% expressing this point of view. When asked to volunteer the one word that best describes Mormons, the most common response from those surveyed was “Christian” or “Christ-centered” (17%). By contrast, many non-Mormons do not see Mormonism as a Christian faith. A November 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that one-third of non-Mormon U.S. adults (32%) say the Mormon faith is not a Christian religion, and an additional 17% are unsure whether Mormonism is Christian. And in an open-ended question asking what one word best describes the Mormon religion, the same survey found that the most commonly offered response was “cult.”
- Mormons and white evangelical Protestants resemble each other and stand out from the broader public in that majorities of both groups exhibit high levels of religious commitment. Nonetheless, Mormons perceive hostility directed toward them from evangelical Christians. Fully half of those surveyed (50%) say that evangelical Christians are generally unfriendly toward Mormons, compared with 21% who think evangelicals are neutral toward Mormons and 18% who say evangelicals are friendly toward Mormonism.
- Mormons place a high priority on family life. Large majorities say that being a good parent (81%) and having a successful marriage (73%) are among their most important goals in life, far surpassing the numbers in the general public who say the same.
- Politically, Mormons are quite conservative and supportive of the Republican Party. Two-thirds of Mormons (66%) describe themselves as politically conservative, and three-quarters of Mormon voters (74%) identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.
- Nearly four-in-ten Mormons (39%) say the GOP is friendly toward Mormons, more than twice the percentage that says the Democratic Party is friendly toward Mormons (17%). Mormon Republicans and Republican leaners are much more apt to say the GOP is friendly toward Mormons than to say this about the Democratic Party (45% vs. 14%). On the other hand, nearly as many Mormon Democrats and Democratic leaners view the GOP as friendly toward Mormons (30%) as say this about the Democratic Party (33%).
- A majority of Mormons say that most (53%) or all (4%) of their close friends are Mormon, while 33% say only some of their close friends are Mormon and 10% say hardly any or none of their close friends are Mormon. Friendship networks that consist mostly or entirely of fellow Mormons are particularly common among those living in the West (especially in Utah, where 73% of those surveyed say most or all of their close friends are Mormon).
- Significant minorities of Mormons express belief in certain tenets of Eastern religions. Roughly one-quarter of Mormons (27%) say they believe in yoga not just as exercise but as a spiritual practice, and one-in-ten Mormons (11%) say they believe in reincarnation. Among the general public, 23% say they believe in yoga as a spiritual practice and 24% say they believe in reincarnation.
- Three-quarters of Mormons (74%) were raised in the Mormon faith, while roughly one-quarter are converts (26%). When asked to describe their reasons for converting to Mormonism, about six-in-ten converts (59%) cite the religion’s beliefs as the main reason they joined the church.
The survey, including an infographic highlighting key findings, and additional resources on Mormonism and the LDS Church in America is available on the Pew Forum’s website.