October 31, 2010
Why Are Most Mormons Republicans?
“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” – Joseph Smith, explaining to a legislator how he managed to govern so many Mormons
Nineteenth-century Mormons would find many of their contemporary counterparts’ political preferences shocking, to say the least. Virtually every Mormon in the Utah territory, including Brigham Young, was a Democrat owing to the Republicans’ adamant opposition to statehood for Utah. Before Utah gained statehood in 1896, Church leaders assigned many families to political parties in an effort to show that bipartisanship was alive and well in the territory. Both the New Deal and the Great Society converged with Mormon teachings concerning charity and helping the less fortunate, leading to decisive victories in Utah for FDR (all 4 elections), Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. From what I have been told by erstwhile Mormon Democrats of a certain age, many of them who made the switch did so after the Democratic Party adopted a liberal platform on social issues in the 1970s. Indeed, almost all Mormon Democrats I know disagree with many of their party’s views on controversial social issues.
Be that as it may, most Mormon Republicans in my social circle are complaining not about President Obama’s Supreme Court picks or his views on abortion, but what they perceive as the expanded role of government under his administration. There has always been a libertarian streak in LDS culture (perhaps owing to government persecution in the Church’s first few decades), and Mormons today preach and teach self-reliance. Most active Mormons have a food storage program in their home and an emergency preparedness kit for each family member. In addition, the Church runs an extensive welfare program and staffs employment counseling and placement offices worldwide (both services are available to Mormons and non-Mormons). Most Mormons, like Jews, look first to their own community for help in time of need. It is, of course, somewhat ironic that members of the same religious community that provides leading candidates for the armed forces, FBI, CIA, the State Department and other government agencies are also somewhat reluctant to expand the role of government in their lives.
As much as I would like to see Mormons and Jews collaborate in as many ways as possible, it is unlikely that most non-Orthodox Jews and Mormons will be punching identical ballots on Election Day for the foreseeable future as long as the Democratic Party continues to express liberal views on certain social issues. Mormons have voted in the past for candidates who personified increased government spending (FDR, LBJ), and it is possible that as more LDS families are affected by the current economic troubles, more Church members will be willing to fund and accept government largesse. However, it is unlikely that many Mormons will leave the Republican Party in order to embrace one that advocates support for positions that are contrary to their Church’s moral teaching.