By Benjamin Knoll, Centre College
Some of President Trump’s strongest sources of support during the 2016 election were Evangelical voters as well as those who attend religious services more frequently. It was thus interesting to observe that Mormon voters, one of the most religiously active groups in the United States in terms of church attendance, belief orthodoxy, etc. gave only tepid support to Trump.
Many noted how Donald Trump’s personal life and behavior were antithetical to Mormon values of wholesomeness, personal integrity, and civil conduct. A religion with a history of fleeing religious persecution as refugees also was not thrilled about Trump’s campaign promise to ban Muslims and refugees. Many of Trump’s strongest opponents during the election included prominent Mormon Republican politicians. Utah’s leading newspaper, owned by the LDS Church, called on then-candidate Trump to resign after the Access Hollywood interview surfaced.
Indeed, Jana Riess and I found, as part of our research for the Next Mormons Survey, that Trump enjoyed the support of only a third of U.S. Mormons in the months leading up to the election, with 27% supporting Hillary Clinton, another 13% for fellow Mormon Evan McMullin, 11% for Gary Johnson, and another 11% for “other.”
Partly as a result, Trump did not break a majority in Mormon-dominated Utah, winning only 45% of the vote in a state that voted for Mitt Romney and John McCain at 73% and 62%, respectively. In fact, third party Independent Mormon candidate Evan McMullin won an unusually high 21% in Utah while garnering only 0.5% of the vote nationally.
Did Mormons come home to the Republican Party? The 2016 CCES post-election survey sampled nearly 700 self-identified members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With a margin of error of approximately 3.5%, it allows us to examine more closely Mormon voting patterns in the 2016 election, as it represents an important case study in the link between religion and voting in American society.
The CCES shows that Donald Trump ultimately won a slim majority of the Mormon vote, with 53%. Another quarter (23%) selected Hillary Clinton and 15% voted for Evan McMullin. In this survey, McMullin drew over half (56%) of his support from Mormon voters.
It is interesting to note that between the 2016 NMS survey and the election, it seems that Gary Johnson and “other” lost a good deal of support among Mormons, which we can infer (but not definitely state) largely went to Trump. As Jana Riess and political scientists have noted, partisans tend to “come home” in the weeks before the election, and it seems something similar happened here. Many of those who might have contemplated supporting Johnson or a write-in candidate likely ended up supporting Trump on election day.
|2016 NMS pre-election survey||2016 CCES post-election survey|
Democrats and Democratic leaners make up about 20% of LDS voters in the CCES survey. As expected, Hillary Clinton received 82% of votes from Mormon Democrats, which is a little lower than the 88% of national Democrats who voted for Clinton. Likewise, early support for Gary Johnson among Mormon Democrats and others came home to Clinton by election day.
Interestingly, 12% of Mormon Democrats voted for Trump, a little higher than the 8% of national Democrats and leaners who did so. Who were they? Examining standard demographic variables such as gender, education, race/ethnicity, income, church attendance, ideology, LGBT identification, and Utah residence using a multivariate regression analysis, we find that the only consistent predictors of support for Trump among Mormon Democrats were income and political ideology. Those who were middle/upper class and who identified as moderate/conservative were a little more likely to vote for Trump.
Of course, much research has shown that attitudes such as racial resentment and economic insecurity also influenced voter behavior in the 2016 election. Among Mormon Democrats, those who “strongly disagree” that whites have substantial advantages in American society (a social science measure of racial resentment), were about 15% more likely to switch parties and vote for Trump.
|2016 NMS pre-election survey||2016 CCES post-election survey|
Republicans and Republican leaners made up 65% of Mormon voters in 2016, and the 2016 CCES survey shows that 69% of Mormon Republicans supported their party’s candidate for president in the election. This is a full 20% lower than the 89% of national Republicans and leaners who voted for Trump. About one-in-twenty Mormon Republicans voted across party lines for Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson, each. A full one-in-five Mormon Republicans chose Evan McMullin in the election.
Similar to the pattern observed with Mormon Democrats, it’s likely that most of the Mormon Republicans intending to vote for Johnson or “other” in the months leading up the election “came home” to their party’s candidate and voted for Trump, with a few redistributing to McMullin.
Who were the Mormon Republicans who did not vote for Trump in 2016? Using the same regression method and variables as discussed previously, a few general trends became apparent:
- Mormon Republicans who voted for Hillary Clinton (about 5% of total) tended to be more ideologically moderate and a little more likely to say that the economy was improving. They were also slightly more likely to identify as a non-white racial/ethnic background.
- Mormon Republicans who voted for Gary Johnson (about 6% of total) tended to be younger, male, and ideologically moderate. They also had a more positive outlook on the national economic situation.
- Mormon Republicans who voted for Evan McMullin (about 19% of total) tended to be younger, more educated, more religiously active, and living in Utah. In fact, in the CCES survey, a college-educated Utah Mormon Republican under 40 who attended church weekly was 50% more likely to vote for McMullin than Trump. Similar to others, they also had more positive views on the economy than those who voted for Trump.
As for the 70% of Mormon Republicans who voted for Trump, they tended to be older, white, upper-class, strong conservatives without college degrees. This is in line with national trends. Contrary to national trends, though, it is the less-religious Mormon Republicans who were more likely to support Trump. Those who attend church more often opted for McMullin instead.
|2016 NMS survey||2016 CCES post-election survey|
Independents (those who don’t identify with or lean toward one party or another) made up 15% of Mormon voters. They tended to show a great deal more variety in candidate preferences than their national counterparts, who voted for Trump at 51%, Clinton at 29%, and Johnson at 9%. Evan McMullin earned a little less than 1% among American Independents at large. Here, Trump received the vote of about a third of Mormon Independents, Clinton 23%, McMullin 18%, and Johnson 11%.
PRIMARY ELECTION VOTING PATTERNS
The CCES shows that among Mormons who voted in their state’s Democratic primary or caucus, 55% voted for Bernie Sanders and 45% voted for Hillary Clinton. One major statistical correlate of voting for Sanders vs. Clinton was church attendance: those who attended church frequently were much more likely to vote for Bernie Sanders, while those who were less frequent attenders were more in favor of Hillary Clinton. Voting also split along perspectives of economic performance. Those who believed the national economy had improved recently were much more strongly in favor of Clinton over Sanders.
Among Mormons who voted in the Republican primaries, Ted Cruz garnered the most support at 39%. Donald Trump came in second at 36%, and John Kasich came in third at 13%. Those who supported Trump in the primaries tended to be older, less religious, and without college degrees, while younger, more frequent church attending Mormons with college degrees tended to vote for Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, or another Republican candidate.
While American Mormons bucked national trends in some key ways during the 2016 presidential election, at the end of the day they behaved mostly like other voters and supported for their party’s candidate on election day. About 80% of Mormon Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton and about 70% of Mormon Republicans voted for Trump.
At the same time, Mormons were more likely than other religious groups to go against their party’s choice. Mormon Democrats who voted for Trump tended to be more socioeconomically affluent and have higher levels of racial resentment. Mormon Republicans who voted for Clinton, Johnson, or McMullin tended to be younger and more ideologically moderate. They also were generally more positive in terms of how they viewed national economic conditions.
As was the case with national trends, Trump’s strongest levels of support among Mormons came from older, white, upper-class, ideological conservatives who did not complete college.
In the clearest contradiction of national trends, religiosity (as measured by church attendance) was associated with lower rather than higher support for Trump among Mormon Republicans. Indeed, religiosity was also a key factor in the primaries, with more religiously active Democrats supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton and Cruz, Kasich, or Rubio over Donald Trump.
Another key factor was economic evaluations. Mormons who perceived the economy to have gotten much worse were the most likely to support Trump, while those who had a more positive view were more inclined toward Evan McMullin, Hillary Clinton, or Gary Johnson.
Interestingly, while racial resentment has consistently been shown in many different analyses to be a key driver of voting in the primaries and general election for Donald Trump, its effect was minimal among U.S. Mormons in driving vote choices. It made Democrats slightly more likely vote for Trump over Clinton, but did not appreciably influence vote choices in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. Racial resentment also was not a key predictor of which Republicans supported Evan McMullin, Gary Johnson, or stuck with Donald Trump. Socioeconomic status and religiosity made a much bigger difference.
In other words, while much of the 2016 election turned on questions of racial resentment and identity, religiosity was a key variable that drove Mormon voting patterns in both the Democratic and Republican primaries and led one-in-five Mormon Republicans to break ranks and support Evan McMullin.
Compare this to Evangelical and other religious voters where those who attend religious services more frequently have been more likely to vote for and support President Trump since the election.
At the same time, we should not overstate the effect of religiosity on Mormon voting patterns. Donald Trump still won with a majority of the Mormon vote (53%). The LDS Church accepted an invitation for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to perform for the world stage immediately before Trump’s inaugural address. Over the course of his first year in office, Mormons gave Trump a fairly consistent approval rating of around 60%. The LDS presiding hierarchy rolled out the red carpet for President Trump during a visit to Salt Lake City in 2017 and thanked him for “defending religious freedom.” While it appears that religiosity can lead Mormons in a different direction than other religious groups when it comes to Trump, Mormons remain a politically conservative group and most still support the Republican president.
But in an age where somewhere around 80% of Mormons vote Republican in presidential elections, it is notable that nearly one third of those Republican voters were willing to break ranks and vote for a third-party candidate in the 2016 election. That is uncommon, to say the least, in today’s political environment.