Mormon Study Shows Regional Concentration and Growing Republicanism

Analysis based on Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey

HARTFORD, CT, December 14, 2011 – Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons as they are popularly known, are twice as likely to favor the Republican Party than American adults who belong to other faiths and those who don’t identify with any religion, according to a new study based on the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) by Trinity College researchers.

The study shows that 59 percent of Mormons say they are Republicans compared to 27 percent of non-Mormons. In addition, a higher percentage of Mormons are registered voters (90 percent in Utah and 84 percent overall) as opposed to 78 percent of non-Mormon adults.

The findings suggest that the Mormon community has an above average interest in politics, concludes authors Ryan Cragun, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tampa and a research associate of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture (ISSSC) at Trinity who is also the secretary of the Mormon Social Science Association, and Rick Phillips, associate professor of sociology at the University of North Florida and a former president of the Mormon Social Science Association. Their study is called “The Mormon Population of the United States 1990-2008: An Analysis of Socio-Demographic Trends and Regional Differences.”  For a copy of the report, please visit: http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/12/Mormons2008.pdf.

Their portrait of the U.S. Mormon community is based on data provided by ARIS 2008, the third in a series of large, nationally representative surveys of U.S. adults in the 48 contiguous states conducted by Trinity Professors Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. Employing the same research methodology as surveys in 1990 and 2001, ARIS 2008 questioned 54,461 adults in English and Spanish. With a margin of error of less than 0.5 percent, it provides an analysis of how contemporary Americans identify themselves religiously, and how that self-identification has changed over the past generation.

“This is a timely academic study that provides hard evidence on the social profile of a community which is unfamiliar to Americans living outside the Rocky Mountain region,” said Barry Kosmin. “As we approach the 2012 election, Mormons have never been as prominent in American public life as they are today with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney contending for the Republican Party presidential nomination and Harry Reid of Nevada leading the Senate on the Democratic Party side. We hope this new report based on the unique American Religious Identification Survey series will help people to better understand the contemporary Mormon population and how it is evolving over time.”

Although the Mormon Church was founded 180 years ago, wrote Cragun and Phillips, “Mormonism is poorly understood and poorly regarded by the general public.”

Some political experts ascribe the failure of Romney and Huntsman to gain traction among Republicans as being related to their religious affiliation. According to national polling data, Mormons are viewed less favorably by the American population than any other major Christian group and barely edge out Muslims. In their report, the authors argue that despite its putative size and rapid growth, Mormonism in America still retains some of the characteristics of the regional subculture founded in Utah by separatist pioneers in the second half of the 19th century.

“This ‘guilt by association’ with the exoticism and esotericism of early Mormonism continues to this day,” wrote Cragun and Phillips, “and Mormons in Utah and the Rocky Mountain states, where they are both heavily concentrated and a large proportion of the local population, look different from their coreligionists in other parts of the country in several noteworthy ways.”

There is a debate over the number of Mormons in the U.S. today. The church counts anyone who has been baptized and confirmed as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, including adults who no longer consider themselves to be members.  ARIS takes into account only those who presently self-identify with the church. Thus, at the end of 2008, the church claimed 5.97 million members or 2 percent of the U.S. population, while ARIS believes the more accurate figure is 3.2 million or 1.4 percent of the population, a figure unchanged from 1990. (The ARIS numbers are smaller, in part, because it only surveyed adults and did not count children.)

Mormons tend to be concentrated in the Rocky Mountain states, particularly in Utah. At the end of 2008, the church claimed 1.8 million members or 68 percent of Utah’s citizenry. The ARIS data estimate that the Mormon “market share” in Utah fell from 69 percent in 1990 to 57 percent in 2008. Nevertheless, Mormons are the only religious group in the U.S. today that forms a numerical majority of any one state’s population.

The regional concentration is such that 53 percent of Mormons live in the Rocky Mountain states and only 19 percent reside east of the Mississippi River. “This means Mormons are the most geographically isolated and uniquely distributed religious group in the U.S.,” wrote Cragun and Phillips.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Changes in the ratio of male to female church members in Utah confirm the assertion that young men in the Mormon Culture Region are defecting at substantially higher rates than young women, creating a growing gender imbalance and a surplus of Mormon women. In Utah, self-identified Mormon women outnumber men by a ratio of 3:2.

  • As a result, Mormon women are increasingly likely to marry non-Mormon men. Children born to mixed marriages are less likely to remain in the church.

  • Although Mormon women are no less likely to have college degrees than other women, Mormon women are more likely to be housewives and less likely to work full-time than other American women.

  • American Mormons are remarkable for their racial homogeneity. Indeed, until 1978, men of African descent were denied full participation in the church – a policy that continues to haunt church leaders to this day, according to the authors. In 2008, 91 percent of Mormons identified themselves as white; 3 percent as black; 3 percent as Hispanic; and 3 percent as other. Utah is even more homogeneous, with 95 percent of that state’s Mormon population describing themselves as white.

  • Mormonism is slowly getting more diverse, with Hispanics accounting for most of the change. Church missions have been established in Africa, as well as in Latin American nations.

  • The data show that Mormons are generally better educated than non-Mormons. College graduates comprise 28 percent of all Mormons and 31 percent of Mormon adults in Utah.

  • Mormons in Utah had significantly larger households in 2008 than Mormons elsewhere – 4.2 persons per household vs. 3.7 persons per household, respectively – suggesting that the traditional norm of large families endures in Utah.

  • The period 1990 to 2008 saw rising prosperity, with above-average increases in household income among Mormons in Utah. Although differences between Mormon and non-Mormon households outside Utah are negligible in both the 1990 and 2008 ARIS, Mormon households in Utah seem to have increased their incomes relative to non-Mormon households.

For more information, please contact: Ryan Cragun at ryantcragun@gmail.com or at 813-466-4110; or Barry Kosmin at barry.kosmin@trincoll.edu or at 860-297-2388. For more information about the ARIS 2008 study, please visit: http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/

(front page photo by Flickr user karma17)