Making Mormons Normal
US presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a Mormon, which is a problem for some voters. But, says Andrew Preston, so was the Catholicism of John F. Kennedy and it did not stop him winning the 1960 election.
The Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been beset by problems, but few are as intractable as his religion. Romney is a Mormon, more properly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that makes many Americans uncomfortable. With a stricken economy, high unemployment, and an unpopular health-care reform plan bedevilling President Obama, Romney should be coasting to victory. But questions about him persist, even among Republicans, and the election will likely be a close one. In such a tight contest, doubts about Romney’s religion could even cost him the White House.
Conventional wisdom about US politics holds that religion is a conservative issue, while liberals are more secular. Of course, many liberal Democrats are religious. Historically, moreover, Democrats, including Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, have been among the more religious presidents, while many of the most liberal reformers, such as the civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., grounded their politics in faith. But the party has changed and few Democrats today espouse faith.
Ever since Ronald Reagan officiated over the marriage of the Republican Party to the Religious Right during the 1980 election, faith-based politics has been the Republicans’ strong suit and the Democrats’ Achilles heel. Democrats hold views on abortion, stem-cell research and the teaching of evolution that Christian conservatives find anathema. Pollsters have found that the most accurate predictor of voting patterns is not income, profession or gender, but religion: the more religiously observant the voter, the more likely he or she is to vote Republican.
This trend shows no sign of slowing down; if anything, it is accelerating. According to a recent Pew poll ‘partisan gaps in religious values have arisen over the past 25 years’. For example, in 2012 92 per cent of Republicans and 77 per cent of Democrats said they believed in God; in 1987, the figures were 91 and 88 per cent respectively. While conservatives have kept alive that old-time religion, liberals have begun to lose the faith.