Notes on the Pew Survey.

By January 12, 2012

Between October 25 and November 16 of last year, researchers for the Pew Forum interviewed 1,019 Americans who identified themselves as “Mormon.” That point is key.

There was surprise among the researchers and advisory board (including myself), and no doubt among the General Authorities when it turned out that 77% of Mormons in America attend church every week, because it is received common knowledge among most who care about such things that the actual rate of attendance (and tithepaying &etc) is nowhere near this high.

This likely tells us not that the survey’s incorrect – though it’s sparked a new front in the building war over who owns the term “Mormon.” Rather, it tells us that people who call themselves “Mormon” attend church at pretty high rates, or say they do. And it tells us that, perhaps, Mormons who don’t go to church much might not call themselves “Mormon.” The dynamics of semi-/in-/or (sigh) less- activity are murky and fascinating, and the results of this survey seem to indicate that the inactive engaged Mormons (those who care about the church even though they don’t go) are probably vastly outnumbered by the inactive disengaged.

That said, a few interesting tidbits that David Campbell and I discussed in the conference call this morning.

+Mormons seem remarkably ambivalent about their place in America. Nearly half say that Mormons face discrimination in America. Fewer than that a third believe that Americans think Mormonism is mainstream. But more than half think America is ready for a Mormon president. Lots of aspirational Romney voters out there.

This, though, gets at something I sense running through the entire survey: Mormons are not yet ready to surrender their insularity, their sense of being a peculiar people, their powerful community. Nearly six in ten Mormons say that all or most of their friends are also Mormon. To some extent, Mormons value being different. We’ll see this again when we talk about helping the poor.

+Also, 90% of Mormons like their lives.


+77% of Mormons identify as sympathetic to the Republican party. However, on one major hot-button issue – immigration – Mormons are way more moderate than nearly every other conservative religious group.

+Additionally, Mormon conservatism is a wine of relatively recent vintage: unlike nearly every other group in America, younger Mormons identify as more conservative than older Mormons.

+Despite all this more Mormons believe that gay people face discrimination in America than who think Mormons face discrimination in America.

+75% of Mormons say they want a smaller government with fewer services, but . . .


+ 73% of Mormons said that helping the poor is essential to being a good Mormon. This is more than the number of Mormons who believe that obeying the Word of Wisdom, having Family Home Evening, or not watching R-rated movies. It’s close to the number that believe that you have to think Joseph Smith saw God. So Mormons may not be big on the welfare state, but they do believe in helping the poor. This likely reflects the Welfare Program.

+Finally, going on a mission makes you like other religions more. It’s true. Look it up.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Nice write-up, Matt. This really interests me:

    unlike nearly every other group in America, younger Mormons identify as more conservative than older Mormons.

    Many (including myself) like to say that there is a generational factor in Mormon conservatism, but we generally don’t mean that the younger generation is more conservative.

    Comment by Ben P — January 12, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

  2. Great write-up Matt. Having David and yourself participate in the conference call yesterday was helpful and very insightful.

    Comment by Aaron R. — January 13, 2012 @ 6:12 am

  3. This likely tells us not that the survey?s incorrect ? though it?s sparked a new front in the building war over who owns the term ?Mormon.? Rather, it tells us that people who call themselves ?Mormon? attend church at pretty high rates, or say they do. And it tells us that, perhaps, Mormons who don?t go to church much might not call themselves ?Mormon.?

    Obviously there are a lot of people pretty skeptical about the survey precisely because of results like this. I’m open to a lot of inactive members not-self identifying. But I just don’t think that can explain that tithing result when it’s higher than most wards I hear about in Utah with few inactive members on their rolls.

    There’s just something fishy about all the statistics. At best they indicate that how one uses the results has to be seriously qualified. Either respondents are really projecting what they think they ought say rather than reflecting their real behaviors (a constant problem in surveys like this) or else we just can’t tell exactly who is being surveyed in a fashion that we can then think about implications too carefully.

    Comment by Clark — January 13, 2012 @ 11:59 am

  4. I find it interesting that the study reports that 59% of U.S. Mormons believe there is ?a lot of discrimination? against gays and lesbians, while 65% of U.S. Mormons (77% of U.S. Mormons with ?high religious committment?) believe homosexuality ?should be discouraged by society.? With that sort of distinction, it sounds like a large portion of U.S. Mormons are thinking there?s not quite enough discrimination against gays and lesbians.

    Comment by Nick Literski — January 13, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  5. Nick, like I said at the BCC thread I think there’s a lot of ambiguity over discrimination. It’s such a problematic term in a survey like this. It’s interesting since as the WaPo noted Mormons rank highest of all religions in favoring civil unions for gays. I think the idea is that most Mormons don’t think one should treat homosexuals differently in terms of hiring, renting, or the like. And you shouldn’t say nasty things. But that you should say homosexual acts are wrong just as premarital sex is wrong. Whether a homosexual would take thinking they should not have sex counts as discrimination is one thing. I think it safe to say many Mormons wouldn’t count that as discrimination.

    Comment by Clark — January 13, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

  6. I think it safe to say many Mormons wouldn?t count that as discrimination.

    As we’ve seen over on BCC, discrimination is certainly in the eye of the beholder. Some in that thread seem to think that peaceful protests/demonstrations (or any other public expression of criticism/disagreement) are a form of anti-Mormon “discrimination.” Apparently when non-LDS do these things it’s “discrimination,” but when LDS do them, it’s just “preaching the gospel.” Sigh…

    Comment by Nick Literski — January 13, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

  7. Well I think the protests at Temple Square could count since you have a lot of signs that I think go a little above the pale. Consider the 2011 conference signs. Admittedly they were much tamer than in previous years. But I think many of them go well beyond mere proselytizing. Even acknowledging that in American Christianity warning people about going to hell has a long history as a way to proselytize – especially in Evangelical movements and their precursors.

    But in previous years at temple square you had protestors dressed in temple garments and some with pretty vile signs.

    Now I also think that a lot of prop-8 signs from both sides crossed into discrimination as well. Sadly politics doesn’t always bring out the best in people. I have no trouble saying that some things some LDS have done would count as discrimination against gays. I don’t think it’s the majority by far, but I’ve definitely heard things that make me uncomfortable.

    Comment by Clark — January 13, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

  8. “Nearly half say that Mormons face discrimination in America.”

    This fall in SS a lesson discussed the persecution of the early Christians. The teacher asked the question, “are we (i.e. Mormons) persecuted today?” I shook my head negatively, only to notice that everyone else who was physically responding nodded their head’s in the affirmative! Do we seriously understand what persecution and discrimination is or are we closer to the child who thinks that they are being persecuted when they have to go to bed without dessert.

    I, personally, have never been denied the use of a water fountain, a restaurant, a bus seat, or a hotel room. I’ve never had bricks thrown through my window or a burning Moroni on my lawn.

    Were Mormons once persecuted and discriminated against. Absolutely. But if you really want to know what persecution and discrimination is, listen to Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit”.

    Comment by larryco_ — January 14, 2012 @ 2:27 am

  9. Isn’t there a wide range of unethical behavior between “treated as part of the in-group” and “had bricks thrown through windows and denied public transport”?

    For instance I had a teacher bring me up in front of my class and tell them Mormons worshipped Jesus Christ and thought Jesus and the brother were devils. Is that normal behavior? I had people call the cops on me while tracting. I had people open doors on cars to try and knock me off my bike on my mission or lob big gulps at me. Perhaps not what blacks or jews under the civil rights movement went through and certainly not as bad as 19th century missionaries in the south frequently faced. But then that doesn’t mean it’s not discriminatory.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

  10. One thing that I found particularly interesting, and that no one has really mentioned in any of the articles or blog postings I have seen, is that Mormons pray more often than any other religious group. 64% of Mormons pray several times a day with 83% praying at least once a day. Evangelical Christians come in at 60% praying multiple times a day and 82% daily.

    Yeah, the numbers are that big of a difference, but I still find it amazing that we’re the praying-est group of folks.

    Also, 11% of Latter-day Saints believe in reincarnation?! Either A.) the good Mormons taking this survey mistook reincarnation for resurrection, or B.) I am missing some AMAZINGLY deep discussions in Gospel Doctrine.

    I love this post though. A great overall view of the study.

    Comment by Stan Way — January 15, 2012 @ 1:33 am

  11. Speaking only for the few wards that I’ve been in (The Deep South and Cache Valley), it seems to me that many LDS members view themselves as discriminated against and tend to be rather vocal about it when together. I feel that this stems from a combination of vivid personal experiences (such as Clark named in post 7, and many of us have experienced similar ones) and the traditional narrative of LDS history. I have to say that I believe that the persecution is often played up far too much and would like to see a more positive tone when the topic is broached in Sunday School. I have no idea how this can happen though.

    Comment by Jack Ply — January 17, 2012 @ 12:10 pm


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