It’s been a banner month for Pew’s Religion and Public Life project. Following last week’s report about how President Obama ranks among various religious groups (Mormons, it turns out, dislike him most of all), Pew now releases a study on how members of different religions view one another and themselves. You can read the original report here or RNS’s brief summary here.
Muslims rank as the study’s least-liked group, with an overall favorability rating of 40%. Mormons are on the low side of “neutral,” with 48%.
But when you drill down those numbers Muslims have far less to worry about than might appear at first glance. That’s because the younger the age group, the more favorably the respondents rate Islam, rising to a neutral-range score of 49 among the 18-29 age group.
Mormons, on the other hand, see their strongest favorable ratings among retirees (52 percent) and a softer showing among the 18-29 and 30-39 age groups (46 percent for both groups).
That’s not as large a spread as the age discrepancy among people rating Islam, but it’s still a notable difference. Younger people are less likely to approve of Mormonism than older Americans – despite the Church’s intense courting of this group through social media campaigns like heartthrob David Archuleta’s live Facebook chat last month.
There’s also a political component to Mormonism’s favorability rating. The Washington Post pointed out yesterday that among Democrats, Mormons have their worst rating of all:
Among Republicans and GOP-leaning Americans only, atheists and Muslims are still the least-popular religion — and even more so than among the general population. But among Democrats and Democratic-leaning Americans, the most unpopular religion is … wait for it … Mormonism!
Only 44% of Democrats ranked Mormonism favorably, compared to 52% of Republicans.
Race is a factor as well. Among African Americans, Mormons had the second-lowest rating of any religious group, with only 42% giving Mormonism a thumbs-up. That’s higher than the 33% of blacks who approved of atheism but behind African American respondents’ ratings for Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism and significantly behind Judaism, Catholicism and evangelical Christianity.
The bottom line is that no matter how many Archuleta live chats the Church conducts or how many media stories there are about the explosion of young Mormon missionaries doing good in the world, the damage done by the Church’s involvement in Proposition 8 and antigay legislation have done it no favors among liberals. Also, it’s likely that its past history of institutional racism has done it no favors among African Americans, despite leaders’ hard work to eradicate racism now and look to the future.
Mormonism is more than a religion of old, conservative white people. How to persuade the world of that is the question.