Monday, February 6, 2012

Mormons and Utah Political Partisanship (Part One)

This is the first installation in a three-part series on Mormons and Utah Political Partisanship.

Mid-January I attended two political discussion panels in Utah County, one at Brigham Young University, the other at Utah Valley University. The topic: Mormons and Utah political partisanship. But before I get into what was said at those meetings,

here's some background.

According to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) make up 58% of Utah's population.

A new 2012 Pew Research Center study, found the following information on U.S. Mormons and Politics:
U.S. Mormons Political Lean
 Nearly three-in-four Mormon registered voters (74%) either identify as Republican (52%) or lean toward the Republican Party (22%). Far fewer (17%) identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. By comparison, the general public is much more evenly split between the two parties, with 45% of all registered voters favoring the GOP and 48% favoring the Democratic Party in Pew Research Center polls conducted September-November 2011. White evangelical Protestants (68% of whom identify with or lean toward the GOP) are the only other large religious group that rivals Mormons’ level of support for the Republican Party.
Mormon women . . . are less Republican (67%) and more Democratic (22%) than Mormon men (81% Republican vs. 12% Democratic). Mormons who live in the West are somewhat more Republican (77%) than Mormons from other regions of the country (66%). (PRC)
Obviously, the partisanship of American Mormons has an effect on Utah politics. According to a source called the Utah Election Atlas, in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election 62.24% of Utah voters voted for a Republican and only 34.22% of Utah voters voted for a Democrat.

Here's an interesting insight into Utah partisanship from Utah's own Jon Huntsman in an October 24th, 2011 interview with Stephen Colbert:
Colbert: How can you be a moderate in today's Republican Party?
Huntsman: I ran for reelection as [Utah] governor in 2008. I won Republicans, I won independents, I won a whole lot of Democrats, more Democrats than my Democratic opponent. That's not carrying a label, that's being a leader. You tell the people what you're gonna do, and you deliver for the citizens--that's all. They just want straight talk.

Colbert: Well, why not run as a Democrat? If you got more Democratic votes, shouldn't you run as a Democrat?

Huntsman: Because I think that's a rare thing in the state of Utah, so I like to fly that [Republican] flag.
Audience: (Big laugh.)
Jon Huntsman on The Colbert Report
It would seem that this partisan trend in Utah is only a few decades old. All 5 of Utah's governors since 1985 have been Republican. However, since statehood, Utah's first 12 governors were a more bipartisan group: between 1896 and 1985 Utah had 6 Republican governors and 6 Democratic governors. It switched back and forth in this order: RRRDRDDDRRDD (Wikipedia).

The Panel Discussions:

January 11th, UVU. Hosted by KUER, University of Utah's public radio station.

January 24th, BYU. Hosted by BYU's Political Science Department.

Both meetings were focused on the same topic. Both were panel discussions featuring significant Republican and Democratic political figures. But the similarities ended there.

The UVU discussion had the mildest title, but was easily the most intense of the two meetings. A few minutes in, panelist, Holly Richardson (Republican, and former Utah House representative) said, "I don't know how much bantering you want us to do here . . . I have some comebacks for Senator McAdams . . ." That set the tone for what then became a debate between panelists about which political party is the best match for LDS values. It was a friendly debate, mind you, but at the same time, it was clear that each panelist felt he or she had something to prove. The only non-legislator panel member, Quinn Monson, Associate Director for BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, gave his analysis: that neither political party is a perfect fit for LDS values and beliefs. They took questions from the audience, and addressed controversial issues like the problem of LDS Democrats feeling like they have to keep their political views secret for fear of being rejected by the mainstream LDS community.

In contrast, the BYU panel discussion evolved into a group consensus that because the LDS church maintains political neutrality, there isn't one political party or philosophy that "good Mormons" are expected to adhere to. In other words, you don't have to vote Republican to be a good Mormon. The panelists' approach was fairly diplomatic, generally evading controversy.

Further meeting details appear in Parts Two and Three of this series on Mormons and Utah Political Partisanship.

Read Part Two
Read Part Three

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