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Mormons say U.S. is ready for a president of their faith

January 11, 2012 |  9:01 pm

Mittromney

Call it the Mitt Moment, the Mormon Moment -- by whatever name, this would seem to be a pretty good time to be a Mormon in America. And it is, according to a survey of American Mormons being released Thursday, even though many church members say they still face discrimination and hostility.

Mormons are generally more satisfied with their lives and communities than most Americans, and a majority believe that America is ready to elect a Mormon president, says the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey provides a snapshot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the formal name — at a time when one of its members, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, could become the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party. 

Most of the survey’s findings are unsurprising. Mormons are far more conservative than the public at large (66% vs. 37%), and far more likely to be Republican or Republican-leaning (74% vs. 45%). They are staunch social conservatives, with strong majorities opposed to homosexuality and abortion. And they like Romney, who has an 86% favorable rating among his co-religionists. (President Obama, by contrast, is viewed favorably by 25% of Mormons, exactly half his rating among the public at large.)

Even before Romney won Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, there was talk of this being a Mormon Moment, in part based on the popularity of “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway and “Big Love” on TV. Given that “Big Love” was about a breakaway polygamist sect, this wasn’t all good news — and the survey found that Mormons believe they are portrayed badly by the entertainment industry.

“One of the key questions we really had going into the survey was, 'How are Mormons themselves responding to and experiencing this Mormon Moment that we seem to be in?’ ” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew. “It paints kind of a mixed picture.”

“On the one hand, we find lots of Mormons telling us they feel like their religion is misunderstood, lots of Mormons who think they’re discriminated against, lots of Mormons who say they don’t think Mormonism is part of mainstream American society,” Smith said. “At the same time, there’s a flip side to this -- we see a high level of optimism or satisfaction in their own lives.”

Smith said Pew found a similar dichotomy among American Muslims in a recent survey. He also said he was struck by the paradoxical relationship between Mormons and white evangelical Christians. The two groups have a great deal in common: political conservatism, social conservatism, very high rates of religious commitment.

“Despite those commonalities, there’s clearly tension between these groups,” Smith said. Half of those surveyed said evangelicals were unfriendly to Mormons –- a finding that may be fairly accurate, given that an earlier Pew survey found that 47% of evangelicals said Mormons were not Christians.

For all that, the survey reflected an overall sense of optimism, with 63% of Mormons saying the American public is becoming more accepting of their church, and 56% saying they believe the country is ready for a Mormon president.

The survey was the most extensive ever conducted of American Mormons, according to Allison Pond, deputy editor of the editorial page at the church-owned Deseret News in Salt Lake City and an advisor to Pew on the poll. She said the results largely confirmed what was already known about Mormon beliefs.

Pond said she found it particularly gratifying to see that 86% of respondents said they found polygamy to be morally offensive.

“I’m hopeful that that statistic will start to get some play,” she said. “I think that can tone down a lot of the conversation” about polygamy.

Multiple marriage was condoned in the early days of the Latter-day Saints, but has been prohibited by church doctrine since the late 19th century. Despite that, it still is widely associated in the public mind with the Mormon Church.

Pew surveyed 1,019 self-identified Mormons between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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Photo: Mitt Romney addresses supporters in Columbia, S.C., on Wednesday. Credit: C. Aluka Berry / The State/MCT 

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