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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Trump and Mormons

In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House. In our next book (title TBA), we discuss how these divides played out in 2020.

 McKay Coppins at The Atlantic:

In the past few years, Mormons have become a subject of fascination for their surprising resistance to Trumpism. Unlike most of the religious right, they were decidedly unenthusiastic about Donald Trump. From 2008 to 2016, the Republican vote share declined among Latter-day Saints more than any other religious group in the country. And though Trump won back some of those defectors in 2020, he continued to underperform. Joe Biden did better in Utah than any Democrat since 1964, and Mormon women likely played a role in turning Arizona blue.

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According to one survey, Latter-day Saints are more than twice as likely as white evangelicals to say they welcome increased immigration to the United States. When Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslim immigration, the Church, hearing an eerie historical echo, issued a blistering condemnation. Later, when Trump signed an executive order allowing cities and states to veto refugee resettlement, Utah was the first red state in the country to request more refugees.

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[Trump in 2016] finished dead last in Utah’s Republican primary, and consistently underperformed in Mormon-heavy districts across the Mountain West. When the Access Hollywood tape leaked, the Church-owned Deseret News called on Trump to drop out. On Election Day, he received just over half of the Mormon vote, whereas other recent Republican nominees had gotten closer to 80 percent.

Trump did better in 2020, owing partly to the lack of a conservative third-party candidate like Evan McMullin. (Full postelection data weren’t available as of this writing.) But the Trump era has left many Mormons—once the most reliable Republican voters in the country—feeling politically homeless. They’ve begun to identify as moderate in growing numbers, and the polling analyst Nate Silver has predicted that Utah could soon become a swing state. In June, a survey found that just 22 percent of BYU students and recent alumni were planning to vote for Trump.

Robert P. Jones, the head of the Public Religion Research Institute, says this Mormon ambivalence is notable when compared with white evangelicals’ loyalty to Trump. “History and culture matter a lot,” Jones told me. “Partisanship today is such a strong gravitational pull. I think what we’re seeing with Mormons is that there’s something else pulling on them too.”
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The hard parts of Mormonism—huffing up hills in a white shirt and tie, forgoing coffee, paying tithes—might complicate the sales pitch. But they can also inspire acts of courage. After Romney voted to remove Trump from officestanding alone among Republican senators—he told me his life in the Church had steeled him for this lonely political moment, in which neither the right nor the left is ever happy with him for long. “One of the advantages of growing up in my faith outside of Utah is that you are different in ways that are important to you,” he said. In high school, he was the only Mormon on campus; during his stint at Stanford, he would go to bars with his friends and drink soda. Small moments like those pile up over a lifetime, he told me, so that when a true test of conscience arrives, “you’re not in a position where you don’t know how to stand for something that’s hard.”