With two members of the Mormon faith running for the Republican presidential nomination, the results of a Gallup poll about religious prejudice are particularly timely. According to Gallup, 22 percent of Americans polled said they would not vote for a Mormon for president.
Some may fear the publicity attending either Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman’s campaigns or the attention given the satirical Broadway show “The Book of Mormon” or the recently concluded HBO polygamy drama “Big Love” has exacerbated prejudice against Mormons. But Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who admitted to this prejudice has remained virtually unchanged since it first started asking the question in 1967.
That’s the good news for Mormons. The bad news is this result outstrips every other religious faith included in the survey. Only nine percent say they would not vote for a Jew while seven percent own up to being unwilling to cast a ballot for either a Baptist or a Catholic. Indeed, the last time the percentage of Americans who said they would not vote for a Jew or a Catholic was as high as 22 percent, was 1959 for Catholics and 1961 for Jews. The last time many said they would not vote for a black or a woman was, respectively, 1971 and 1975.
Given the fact more than three quarters of Americans eschew such bias should mean their faith would not necessarily cost either Romney or Huntsman the election. After all, as the article accompanying the poll points out, 25 percent of the country said they would not vote for a Catholic in 1959 a year before John F. Kennedy was elected president.
Still, it is worth pondering why prejudice against Mormons is so persistent when anti-Catholic sentiments as well as anti-Semitic beliefs, which have deeper roots in our culture than the prejudice against Latter Day Saints, have diminished. Indeed, the poll showed the only groups that generate a higher negative response are gays/lesbians and atheists.
The Mormon religion was intensely controversial in its first half century because of the practice of polygamy and the fact this church was viewed as a political as well as spiritual threat to the existing order. After much strife as well as persecution, the Mormons re-entered the American mainstream in the late 19th century after the LDS church renounced polygamy, and Utah finally won statehood.
Still, in an era when religious pluralism is an unquestioned element of American culture, it is somewhat baffling that Mormons remain the object of hate. Some may put it down to the rigid beliefs of conservative evangelicals who think Mormons are not Christians, but considering the rude treatment the Mormons have gotten on both Broadway and HBO, it must be considered that some sophisticated liberals may be among the prejudiced 22 percent Gallup has discovered. Indeed, the survey says 27 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for a Mormon as opposed to only 18 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Independents. All of which goes to show when it comes to religious bias, so-called liberals may turn out to be less tolerant than conservatives.