Can Mormons Be Savvy Voters?

John Hamergay, mitt, mitt romney, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, politics, romney 21 Comments

There’s a lot of talk in the media and across the ’nacle to the effect that Romney’s Mormon identity was the critical factor that torpedoed his candidacy. The argument is that a large percentage of Republican primary voters have anti-Mormon sentiments that kept them from supporting the candidate who, by the numbers, shared all the values positions that mattered to them most. The comparison has specifically been drawn with Log Cabin Republicans: Are Mormons a second group in the GOP’s big tent that find themselves despised by their fellow Republicans?

If that’s where Mormons find themselves, we should ask:  What lessons can they learn from Log Cabin Republicans?

In the first place, we should note that Log Cabin Republicans are not an interest/identity group. Gay people are the interest group. This is a critical distinction.

Mormons today are block voters. With only anemic exceptions, they vote Republican as a group as an identity issue, i.e., without regard to their own individual self-interests. This is the kind of voter political parties like the most: block voters are chicks that parties can count before they’ve hatched. Mormons today are among the most reliable voting blocks either party has.

But what’s a chick to do when he finds out he’s seen as an ugly duckling?

Let’s go back to Log Cabin Republicans. After the anti-Gay vitriol of the 2004 US election (which easily trumps the anti-Mormon sentiments shown this year), a lot of people were saying, “You’d have to be crazy to be a Log Cabin Republican” and who are these guys? I’m a gay small business owner and I have a bunch of Log Cabin Republican friends. If they’re crazy, I’ll tell you that it’s like a fox.

By maintaining a high profile in the GOP, Log Cabin Republicans are doing two things. In the first place, they are using considerable moneyed donations to support candidates in the GOP who avoid anti-gay demagoguery. This year they campaigned hard against Mitt (who flip-flopped from being pro-gay to being a bigot) and in favor of McCain, who is on record being opposed to a pro-discrimination constitutional amendment. This year the Gay foxes won while the Mormon chicks lost.

The second and more important thing that Log Cabin Republicans do is illustrate to the Democratic party that Gays are not just block voters that Democrats are free to keep in the bank and ignore. And frankly, they don’t ignore us and the contrast for Mormons and the GOP should be eye-opening to you. Gay people are a tiny, tiny minority group. Our population is concentrated in urban areas that are Democratic strongholds and even there, we don’t have the raw votes to be a majority in single municipality of any size. Mormons, by contrast, are geographically concentrated and have the ability to make a very serious and immediate political impact this election. And yet the idea that the GOP could lose Utah’s electoral votes this fall is hardly taken seriously by any pundit.

In 2004, Log Cabin Republicans showed their disdain by closing their pocketbooks to the GOP. It wasn’t enough to throw the election, but it did illustrate that their money, time and votes could not be taken for granted. After this primary season, if the Mormons still line up like good chicks and give their electoral votes to the GOP, how can the party do anything but take Mormons for granted now and in the future?

Comments 21

  1. I have been having the same sentiments. I have been one of those that was a typical reliable GOP voter. I was a Rush Limbaugh baby for heaven sake! This year, I’m more wary. True, I am ideological about a few thigs, one of them Federalism, and I want Supreme Court justices that will overturn Rove vs. Wade and send moral issues like gay amrriage and abortion for the states to decide. I believe this is the BEST way to deal with culture war issues so we can get back to the fiscal and foreign policy issues that used to dominate politics. Let the cultural issues stay local. I’m a fiscal conservative, true, but I’m not ideologically so. I can handle a tax increase here and there if I trust the government witht he usage of those funds.

    That being said, I’m considering voting for Barak Obama to send 1) the GOP a message about the bigoted whisper campaign against Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism and 2) Because I don’t trust McCain. If it looks as if McCain is going to lose anyway, I would do all in my power to accerlerate that loss by encouraging my fellow Mormons to vote for Obama to send the party a message. Election never usually hang on little old Utah anyway.

  2. Can Mormons be savvy voters? I hope so, but its not likely. Ours is a culture where relying on the judgment of others is everyday practice, and its not only encouraged it is sometimes presented as morally imperative that you do so.

    As for Mitt, I think he would have won the nomination handily if he’d not been a Mormon, but not entirely because of anti-Mormon bigotry. His Mormonism did two things. First it alienated the evangelicals who can’t get past their prejudice. Secondly, it created a distracting campaign focus around faith and religion that alienated everyone who would rather have a separation of church and state. Mitt’s biggest strength was supposed to be with the real Republicans, not just the religious right that gets all the press. I think because his Mormonism had to be justified to the evangelicals, he talked too much about religion, switched his position on the moral issues the religious are obsessed with, and ultimately lost focus on what all the non-religious conservatives really wanted. To the evangelicals he was “the Mormon candidate”. To the rest, he was “a religious Candidate”. If he were a Methodist and had no need to justify his faith, he would have been the candidate with the most solid administrative resume of the bunch.

  3. Can mormons be savvy voters?

    If a mormon is running, then probably not. Most are completely blinded by this. (with the exception of many in the fringe on this site)

    The savvy I heard in many circles was “gee wouldn’t be great to have a mormon in the Whitehouse”.

    Also many will be bound to the extent of the leadership’s savvy.

  4. Can mormons be savvy? That is a good question, I think it would be difficult for this move (handing Utah/Idaho to the democrats) to happen without someone in semi-authority to push for it. I don’t think enough mormons care enough about thinking seriously and innovatively about political things (this ties into the earlier post about curiosity). I think they would have to more or less be told/encouraged to make this move by ecclesiastical leaders (which won’t happen). We’re so used to being told what to believe or how to act, it is interesting to see how we behave when the decision (at least in word) is left up to each individual.

    On the other hand, where is the proof all mormons are republicans/conservative? I know we look that way, and act that way because of social pressure/expectation to, but when it comes down to personal beliefs on issues, I think we might be slightly more diverse than one might expect. I think this would make an interesting study, to look at what percentage of mormons really are republican. Then a second branch of the study could look at the percentages regionally (specifically outside of Utah). I’d read that study.

    As for brother Mitt, I think the real reason he lost was that he struck most people as being too political for his own good (Hillary is much the same way on the Democratic side). By this I mean, he positioned himself to say the things he thought would get him elected. When these are shifts in core issues and they come right before you run for president (relatively speaking) and are fairly drastic shifts, then you come off looking like, for lack of a better word, a flip-flopper. I don’t think it helped that he had the general religious discrimination going against him, but I think his real downfall was that he ran a campaign that didn’t play to his strengths. This economic situation we’re sliding into was like gold handed to him on a platter (being the most experienced business/economics candidate), and he failed to capitalize on it. So, while we can point to some certain situations where he fared poorly because of who the audience was (conservative christians), is this any different than Hillary not getting the black vote, or Obama not getting the hispanic vote? I doubt that Obama isn’t getting the hispanic vote for the simple (and wildly hypothetical) reason that hispanics hate black people. He will either find a way to appeal to that audience, or cut his losses and try to win over another group of people.

    Mitt had to have known this obstacle coming into the race. And repeatedly yelling loudly, “I’m the only conservative in this race!” was evidently not the winning strategy.

    John, I really enjoyed this post. I think it’s interesting to look at the power that 3-4 million people (active mormons) could actually have if they were really engaged in the process and positioning themselves to make a difference.

    The response I’ve heard from my less open-minded conservative friends is now this: either I vote for McCain begrudgingly, or I don’t vote at all. Sounds like a defeatist attitude to me, and one that is sure to continue if, like you mentioned the Republicans can count on them to fall in line no matter what happens.

  5. “The response I’ve heard from my less open-minded conservative friends is now this: either I vote for McCain begrudgingly, or I don’t vote at all. Sounds like a defeatist attitude to me, and one that is sure to continue if, like you mentioned the Republicans can count on them to fall in line no matter what happens.”

    McCain is anathema to conservatives not because he doesn’t usually vote conservative. Everyone goes of the reservation now and again–can I say George W? McCain’s problem is rhetoric. He adopts the rhetoric of liberals. He cozies up to then first, unstead of at the end, of a legislative process. His language and posture make him someone conservatives can’t trust. Now, that being said, should they NOT vote? I think that’s silly. Pick the best candidate. Even as a staunch conservative, the best candidate I see right now is Obama.

  6. Peter,

    I appreciate that post. I never realized that is causes all the animosity from the right wing (coulter and limbaugh for instance). I agree with you that not voting is a silly attitude, and anyone who is so entrenched in party politics to do that over voting for the best candidate is a big part of what is wrong with our country, politically speaking. (Make note: this same assessment applies to democrats)

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    Re #1 Peter: I know that social conservatives are more aware of the issue of judicial appointments than just about anybody else in the electorate. However, right now you’re looking at a court that is 7/9ths Republican. At this point, I’d argue that conservatives ought to be careful what they wish for. One of the reasons why the Reagan revolution happened was because the Warren court of the late 1960s and 1970s was out of step with and to the left of the country. As an unelected body, the fact that it was imposing its will on the electorate had the effect of galvinizing and strengthening conservatives politically. Right now the pendulum is swinging leftward in the country as a whole and the court is already stacked to provide right-wing extremist positions that are out of touch with the population. If it becomes further out of whack, I think it has the potential to extinguish social conservativism politically outside of court rulings. Roe vs. Wade has not been helpful to Democrats politically and the extreme right-wing rulings the court is already set to hand down will not help endear the electorate to Republicans.

    Concerning your point that if McCain looks like he’s going to lose, you want to accelerate that — I think this is a key strategy. The stars may be aligning this year and if McCain loses Mondale-style, the GOP will be reinventing itself with a new party establishment, the way the Democrats did after 1994. If, after this primary season, Utah is one of the few states to go for McCain, the lesson Republicans can take away is, “As we’re rebuilding and reinventing ourselves, the one group we don’t have to listen to is the Mormons; we have their vote no matter what we do.”

    By the way, my key issues more or less line up with yours. I’m opposed to massive, wasteful borrow-and-spend government. I want a return to fiscal responsibility and surplusses like we had in the 90s. My opposition to the Iraq war has always been on the grounds that it was too costly financially (not to mention counter productive) and bad for business, i.e., not some abstract moral grounds. I also think that the US benefits when power is devolved to the states which can serve as laboratories for different ideas — I agree that a host of issues including marriage are best left to the states.

  8. John, it seems as though the premise of your statement is that it would be to the advantage of Mormons to not be planted so securely planted in the conservative Republican camp. I am not sure I accept that. Mormon alignment with the right wing of the Republican party has paid some pretty big dividends so far. Mormons are overrepresented as a group in Washington (by far on the Republican side of course). Mitt’s loss shows the limits of that power but it certainly doesn’t erase it. Mormons continue to build power year after year. By being “Savvy”, and qualifying their Republican support, Mormons might actually fracture their vote and lose power. It is the fact that most Mormons vote by rote rather than with deep analysis that leads to their successful power block voting. I only wish the Mormon church would align massively with the Democratic party and gain power while supporting a political philosophy which I think better reflects true Christian teachings.

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    Re #2 Clay: Whereas I think that the second issue you identify for Mitt (being the religious candidate) would have certainly come into play in the general campaign, I’m not sure that it hurt him too much in the primaries. I do imagine Mitt’s people hoped that it would help him in the primaries. They likely hoped that evangelicals would sense that secularists were attacking all religious people and would forget their differences and come to a fellow believer’s aid, even if he believed something different. Mormons may well have done that for an evangelical, but that doesn’t seem to be an evangelical attitude.

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    Re #3 TJM: For groups to support their own is fairly normal, so Mormons probably aren’t too different from a lot of other groups in that way. Catholics are an exception. I consider them to be a suicidal identity group that will always cannibalize their own in a general election. If Guiliani had been the nominee, you would have had the same intra-Catholic attacks on his abortion rights views that John Kerry had to deal with.

    In terms of being blinded by one’s own, I often see incredible vitriol for Harry Reid from mainline Mormons. He is often portrayed as a traitor to his kind, the same way that African Americans identify Republican leaders like J.C. Watts and Clarence Thomas as traitors to their identity. In this way, Mormons politically seem to act a lot more like African Americans than they act like gay people or Jews.

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    Re #4 JH: Thanks for your comments, I appreciate the insight. I can’t help but agree with you that this is unlikely to happen organically through independent, free-thinking; that a push from someone in authority would be required (and that no push will be forthcoming).

    Frankly, this is a big structural difference between the two minority groups. Gay people do not have national leaders at all. We have a few minor celebrities, but that’s not the same thing. So all of the stuff the gay community is doing is more or less organic. Consequently, the political tactics are happening at the individual level, with local free-thinking people adopting whatever strategy seems most effective.

    Meanwhile, please conduct your study. I will very interested to read it as well. 🙂

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    Re #8 Sanford: I agree that Mormons are way over-represented on the GOP side. That works well when the GOP has control of the White House and Congress. What happens when November rolls around and — as people like Newt Gingrich & Pat Buchanan are predicting — the GOP is flushed out of Washington? Why should the Democratic majority in Congress and in the Executive do anything for Mormons? When you block vote blindly, you have all your eggs in one basket.

  13. John, I agree with you. Also because of Harry Reid’s democratic stance and views I think that many mormons don’t really consider him a mormon. (at least not their kind of mormon)

    I also wonder how much support Romney would have received in Utah if he would have run as a democrat, with his original democratic views.

  14. I think it would be wonderful if Utah voters woke up and decided to shake things up. But the cynical part of me remembers the sheer partisan stupidity of people in Utah. They’ve been playing GOP lap dog for a long time. And, sad to say, I just don’t see much evidence of independent political thinking in the region.

  15. John #7
    “However, right now you’re looking at a court that is 7/9ths Republican.”

    True. But Republican doesn’t necessarily translate to federalist (powers not explicitly given to the natio should be given to the states). Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, and Stevens are all Republicsn appointees, but they may as well been appointed by Democrats. I don’t suspect the Court is as major an issue to the broader Democratic base. I think a legislatively-friendly Washington that helps pass health care reform and increases the minimum wage is more important to them. Unfortunately, the Court isn’t where it needs to be on Federalism and a Democratic swing could stall its momentum to a more Fedearlist appeal. GOPers like Huckabee don’t help when they want to overrule the Constitution by appeals to the Bible.

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    Peter: I know conservatives think that, but you’re wrong. The court is already out of whack to the extreme right and their rulings are one more thing that will kill conservativism as you know it. Nothing’s ever over “in the end” because time goes on forever.

    I welcome unjust, extremist right-wing court rulings. Roe vs. Wade was a death sentence to the nascent political majority in favor of women’s rights. That teaches us that it’s better to work these things out in the legislatures than in the courts.

  17. Interesting post.

    I think that now is as good a time as any for Mormon voters (particularly those in Utah) to reconsider whether the far right is really a good fit for them. When the LA Times released a poll in summer 2006 showing that over a third of voters would not vote for a Mormon, several LDS Republicans I know complained of an apparent “liberal bias.” I predicted that a serious LDS presidential candidate would probably have to worry more about winning over those on the far right, who are predominantly evangelical Christians, despite an apparent matching of political values and interests. As it turns out, despite Mitt’s best efforts (and boatloads of money), Bible Belt Christians primarily went for Huckabee, a Baptist. And this in spite of the fact that Mitt, by almost any measure, was probably a more qualified candidate than the Huckster.

    Mormons almost have a compulsive need to be accepted as Christians, and I think this is reflected in voting patterns. Mormons tend to see evangelicals as political allies, yet in this race, the most viable Mormon candidate we’ll see for years was emphatically rejected by evangelicals.

    I know a number of Mittsters that feel “betrayed” by their party. Some are vowing to vote for Obama, if he gets the nomination. For the first time in recent years, there’s a sliver of hope that Utah might shift to more moderate ground.

    But I’m guessing that most will ultimately vote for McCain (especially if Hillary gets the Democratic nomination). Oh well.

  18. “I know conservatives think that, but you’re wrong. The court is already out of whack to the extreme right and their rulings are one more thing that will kill conservativism as you know it. Nothing’s ever over “in the end” because time goes on forever.”

    I would hardly think anything the Court has ruled on recently would be characterized as “out of whack to the extreme right.” It’s just simply not true. I’m don’t want a protracted argument here, but perhaps you could email me so we can discuss specifics. I may have been living under a rock in recent years and haven’t follwed the Court’s rulings closely enough.

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    Peter: My main point is that a court that was too liberal in the 1970s was not particularly helpful to the Democratic party. If you agree with that premise, that’s really the only point I want to make.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Meanwhile, I am now predicting that we no longer have to worry about who the Democratic nominee is.

    With her loss in Maine, Hillary is now poised to lose all 10 contests between Super Tuesday and the Super Tuesday sequel event next March 4th, when Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island vote.

    Given 10 straight losses, she will also lose Rhode Island, Vermont, Ohio and Texas. I now predict that she will drop out of the race on March 5th.

    The general race will be Obama vs. McCain.

  20. Thats a bold one, but it would be great. Maybe its something naive in me, but Obama seems to be a real person and not just a politician. Isn’t that something we have all been whining for in a presidential candidate for years?

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