Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why American Mormons Are Predominantly Republican; It's Because The Democratic Party Changed Its Prevailing Social Values

A recent Gallup Poll which showed that Barack Obama has the lowest approval rating, 24 percent, among Mormons has triggered considerable discussion. One pundit on Mormon Mentality authored a post entitled, "Mormons NOT Fans Of President Obama (really!?)", and simplistically wrote off the findings as "bias" against the Democratic Party. A follow-up post entitled "Mormon Political Affiliation" acknowledged a combination of theology/practice combined with the demographics of the average U.S. Mormon.

But many people who were either not alive or who had not yet reached the age of majority during the late 1960s and early 1970s missed an important sea change -- the Democratic Party changed its predominant social values during the early 1970s, and those changes tend to be antagonistic towards LDS values.

A brief history lesson is in order. During the New Deal era, Utah Mormons did not vote Republican. Franklin D. Roosevelt actually carried the Beehive State in five consecutive elections from 1932 through 1948, despite the fact that conservatives at the time decried some of the New Deal provisions as "socialist". Although the main appeal of the New Deal was that its benefits were intended to be for all Americans instead of a Byzantine series of "protected classes", another reason for FDR's appeal is that the LDS Church's welfare program was still evolving at the time. But there are other reasons why the Democratic agenda was acceptable to Utah Mormons at the time:

-- The Democratic Party was not pro-choice on abortion
-- The Democratic Party did not promote gay rights or gay marriage
-- The Democratic Party did not promote feminism

The Democratic Party remained a classical liberal party until 1972. At that point, spurred on by a more radical progressive contingent which first took root on college campuses during the late 1960s, the Democratic Party did adopt a more "progressive" agenda on abortion, gay rights, and feminism, although the evolution took several more election cycles to complete. A classic liberal Democrat, Edmund Muskie, was shunted to the sidelines by the more progressive Senator George McGovern, who ran for President against Richard Nixon in 1972 and got crushed. Those who were alive at the time probably remember McGovern being characterized as the "Amnesty, Acid, and Abortion" candidate (amnesty in reference to draft dodgers and acid in reference to the hallucinogen LSD).

Thus in 2010, we have the following clash of values between the Democratic Party and Mormon social values:

-- While the Democratic Party tends to be absolutely pro-choice on abortion, the LDS Church is conditionally pro-life, accepting abortion only for medical reasons
-- While the Democratic Party tends to promote pro-gay values, to increasingly include gay marriage, the LDS Church defines marriage as only between one man and one woman, and continues to excommunicate those of its members found to be practicing homosexuality (the LDS Church does NOT impose discipline on celibate gays)
-- While the Democratic Party tends to promote feminism, the LDS Church itself is infrastructurally patriarchal, conferring Priesthood only upon men, although both The Exponent and Feminist Mormon Housewives promote a less-threatening brand of feminism.

As long as this pronounced social disconnect exists, we can expect American Mormons to remain predominantly Republican. If the Democratic Party wants to make inroads within the LDS community, it must downgrade abortion, gay rights, and feminism from being "articles of faith" to being merely individual matters of conscience. LDS politicians who take that approach can get elected; Jim Matheson and Harry Reid are proof.

To expect the majority of American Mormons to vote for a party diametrically opposed to LDS social values would be like expecting Jews to have voted for Hitler in National Socialist Germany or Missouri Mormons to have voted for Lilburn W. Boggs in the 1830s. It just ain't gonna happen.

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