A Look At Mormons And The GOP

Guy Raz talks to Quin Monson, associate political science professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, about what it means to be both Mormon and Republican.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

On Friday, at the Values Voters Summit here in Washington, where many GOP candidates spoke, the pastor of a Dallas-based mega church called the Mormon faith a cult. Robert Jeffress introduced Texas Governor Rick Perry at the summit, and his comments were aimed at another GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, who has largely avoided talking about his faith in public.

Now, according to a Gallup poll last year, Mormons are more conservative than members of any other major religious group in the U.S. and reliable Republican votes. But among some influential evangelicals, there is a deep-seated mistrust of Mormonism, and that could be a problem for the Republican Party.

Quin Monson, associate professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah joins me now for more. Welcome to the program.

QUIN MONSON: Thanks for having me.

RAZ: Is there growing concern among Mormons who support the GOP about some of the anti-Mormon language we've been hearing lately?

MONSON: I think the anti-Mormon language you hear makes Mormons uncomfortable. Nobody likes to be referred to with the language that you heard Pastor Jeffress use over the weekend. But it's nothing new for Mormons. This is something that Mormons have dealt with for years, and in many ways, we've dealt with harsher language.

RAZ: How do Mormon voters who support the GOP reconcile some of the language coming from elements within the grassroots of the Republican Party?

MONSON: Well, it's not something we hear very often because it's only crept up in the context of national politics with politicians like Mitt Romney running for president. So when we've had Mormon politicians running for statewide office elsewhere, I don't think it's been much of an issue for the most part. So I think the way that Mormons reconcile it is that they're conservative because conservatism has an underlying belief that there is a fixed moral truth out there.

And frankly, I think that's what evangelicals would say, as well, that they believe it fixed moral truth. And so the dustup here is one that's not what's right or wrong socially or politically. The dustup is a theological one.

RAZ: In 2004, 71 percent of voters in Utah supported George W. Bush. In 2008, 62 percent supported John McCain. When did Mormons become such reliable Republican supporters?

MONSON: Well, up through the '40s and '50s and even into the '60s, Mormons were voting fairly evenly for both parties. And I think some of the social changes in the country in the 1960s: the sexual revolution, the liberalization of a lot of social mores, and then culminating in some ways with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

So there's that piece, there's this societal changes, and then there's also the political party changes. So the parties themselves started to take more definite stands on the social issues. And I think starting in the '70s and moving into the '80s, especially, more Mormons took their social conservatism and found a home with the Republican Party.

RAZ: Is there any danger, in your view, that the GOP could suffer from the kind of language that we've heard from some evangelicals who are aligned with the Republican base?

MONSON: It could cause some Mormons to sit on their hands. Not that they would rush toward the Democratic Party, but there's a lot of choices when it comes to election time. And one of those choices is to stay at home.

RAZ: And conversely, you could also lead a number of evangelicals to sit on their hands if a Mormon was a candidate and they didn't approve of that.

MONSON: That's right. It's possible. And I think the language I've heard so far is that they're unhappy with the theology, but not so unhappy that they would vote for Barack Obama as the alternative. And that may be enough of a motivating force, which makes 2012 a much different context because you do have an incumbent Democrat that perhaps allows Romney to get a foothold where he didn't have one otherwise.

RAZ: That's Quin Monson. He's associate political science professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Quin, thanks.

MONSON: Thanks for having me.

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