unpopularIt’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.

22 Comments

  1. I don’t think convincing the “world” is the problem. Rather convincing America, because of the dynamic religion plays in American politics. I wrote about that when I worked for the Deseret News-

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700198897/Faith-and-the-millennials-Progressive-minded-generation-has-a-hard-time-relating-to-organized.html?pg=all

    I believe the church will continue to find success elsewhere across the world as has been done since the 1830s when Kirtland apostatized and European immigrants came in. When one area becomes unbelieving, converts from somewhere else sustain the church.

  2. Mormonism IS a religion of old conservative white people. Simply look at the top leadership for your answer. By its very nature and overly-ambitious proclamation as the world’s “one true church”, Mormonism has to embrace all races and ethnicities, even though its roots are Caucasian American. It will be several more generations before the leadership mood changes. By then Mormonism will either falter or become mainstream.

  3. While it’s important to show our best selves to the world, it’s okay if people don’t like us. Gal 1:10. If the church was really popular, I would be a little disturbed. If it was really popular among young people, I would be very disturbed.

    • If you believe in a church, shouldn’t that church’s increased popularity bring you joy? My guess is God would be overjoyed if the church were more popular among young people, not disturbed.

    • Fear not, with 99.9034% of the world’s population either uninterested, uninformed, disenchanted or outright rejecting Mormonism’s premise, there will not be anything approaching a ‘disturbing’ popularity for your religion. If anything, after nearly 200 years of ambitious proselytizing, and 88,000 missionaries knocking on doors around the world, at best the growth of Mormonism as a religion is barely keeping up with world population growth.

        • Thanks for staying awake long enough to respond! I know wrapping one’s head around the disturbing statistical realities of Mormonism can be very fatiguing for the faithful. You are to be congratulated for your caffeine-free stamina.

          Nap time for Apollo.

  4. While I agree with the general interpretation of the polling evidence and concluding arguments, it’s important not to misinterpret the statistics from the Pew report. An average favorability rating of 44 degrees for a group doesn’t mean that 44% of all survey respondents ranked the group favorably. It means that of all the group ratings given by respondents (who were asked to give a “feeling thermometer” rating in “degrees”), the average rating was 44. This is different than 44% of all respondents giving a score of 50 degrees or higher (indicating favorable feelings toward the group).

    It’s also important not to overplay the differences between average ratings, either. A favorability rating of 52 degrees for retirees vs. 46 degrees for Millennials is only a 6-degree difference on a 0-100 scale – both groups are right around the middle indicating ambivalence (at best) toward Mormons.

    That being said, I don’t disagree with the general arguments made here about Mormonism being more appealing to old, white, conservative Americans, as the Pew survey generally supports this argument and there is also ample evidence to support this conclusion elsewhere.

  5. As an Evangelical I don’t think Mormons are Christians, but as members of society what’s not to like? They are hard-working, pleasant, and patriotic Americans. And if I had a choice between polygamy and gay marriage sweeping the nation, I would rather it be polygamy. Many godly men in the OT were polygamists.

      • “And none were gay by your reasoning?”

        There were quite a few in Sodom and Gomorrah, apparently, but no, I don’t think any of the godly men of Israel were gay. If Scripture recorded Lot having sex with his daughters, Judah having sex with his daughter-in-law, and David killing a man to have sex with his wife, I think it would have told us if they committed sodomy.

          • In my view, being gay is like being sexually attracted to young children. You can’t, perhaps, help that. But you can choose to be celibate. I don’t know God’s precise system for scoring sin, but I would say incest, adultery, and murder are all pretty bad. On the other hand they are all forgivable.

  6. We can’t do much about the Democrats’ dislike of the LDS Church, that’s what happens when the world’s ways and beliefs clash with those of the Church. But the race side of things will straighten itself out over time as the upper leadership comes to look more like the current membership.

      • These days my opinion of the GOP leadership is not entirely printable, and I’m seriously considering not voting for Republicans at all this election cycle. I’m certainly not donating anything to them. But at least the general philosophy of the Republican party is somewhat compatible with free agency and religious liberty, among other concerns, while the general philosophy of the Democratic party IMHO has a strong resemblance to Lucifer’s at the Council in Heaven. And that doesn’t include it’s current status as an anti-religious, anti-family death cult.

  7. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Compared to the publc image of Mormons a century ago, this is remarkable progress. Back then, european descent American Protestants viewed Mormons with the same contempt as they exercised toward blacks, American Indians, Mexicans, Filipinos, Chinese, Catholics and Jews.

    The Pew poll found that feelings of warmth toward other groups was a direct function of how well people knew actual members of each group. That means as the LDS Church continues to grow, especially in communities where Mormons are currently rare, these numbers will probably increase.

    As for Democrats having a negative view of Mormons, that is a stupid attitude for a political party to have toward a growing demographic. There are plenty of Mormons who are blue collar, which used to be one of the primary constituencies of the Democrats, but the Dem leaders don’t seem to be supportive of anyone who does not buy into the most Progressive public policy positions. Democrats did just fine in Utah until the left wing of the party made any other Democrat a second class party member.

  8. Correlation isn’t causation. You don’t have any data to show that the church’s stance on gay marriage has anything to do with it not being popular with young people or liberals for that matter, but don’t phrase it as your best gues in the post. Furthermore, 46 to 52 percent is a tiny, tiny amount when +/- study figures are taken into account. I must say I’m a bit disappointed in this extrapalatory, stretch analysis of the study in the context of this post. Figures are figures, but “the bottom line” is extrapolation is extrapolation. Way to do the twist though!

    • Well, here’s one for you to chew on and extrapolate to your heart’s content.

      Apostle J. Holland went to Jamaica in early June to organize the first stake in the country. With 5,400 members of the church of record, only 800 showed up for this momentous occasion. Fewer than 15% turn out. What say ye?

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