- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2012

U.S. Mormons say that they are still not fully accepted in America, especially by evangelical Christians, and believe the entertainment media - from the Broadway play, “The Book of Mormon” to HBO’s “Big Love” portrayal of polygamy - aren’t helping improve their image.

But they also believe acceptance of them is rising, and 56 percent say the country is “ready” to consider a Mormon candidate, be it Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman Jr., for president.

These are a few of the findings in a first-of-its-kind survey released Thursday by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The Oct. 25 to Nov. 16 telephone survey of 1,019 Mormons “is the first one we’re aware of that consists entirely of Mormons and is focused on Mormonism, by a non-LDS organization,” said Gregory Smith, the senior researcher.

Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), make up 2 percent of the U.S. population.

The survey found something of a “mixed picture,” Mr. Smith said. “On one hand, many Mormons tell us that they feel misunderstood by others,” he said, noting that 62 percent of those surveyed said their fellow Americans know “nothing” or “not too much” about the faith, and almost half say they face “a lot of discrimination.”

“On the flip side of that, there’s a sense that this might be changing - there’s a sense of optimism,” Mr. Smith said. Sixty-three percent of Mormons say they believe that they and their faith are becoming more accepted in American society, and 56 percent believe the country is ready to elect a Mormon president.

Compared with the general public, he added, Mormons are much more likely to be devout, satisfied with their lives and communities, and politically conservative. For instance, only 25 percent of Mormons have a favorable view of President Obama, half the rate of the public as a whole.

Some 86 percent of Mormons who are registered voters said they had a favorable view of Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, the survey found. This favorable view jumped to 94 percent among Republican-leaning Mormons, but also represented a clear majority (62 percent) of Democrat-leaning Mormons.

Romney’s favorability rating among Mormon Democrats is just as high as it is among Republicans in the general population. That is really striking to me,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Huntsman, a former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China, gets a more mixed review. Just half of Mormons say they have a favorable view of him, 26 percent didn’t know him and another 24 percent have an unfavorable view.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and the highest ranking of the 15 Mormons in Congress, also fares poorly with 51 percent of Mormon voters having an unfavorable view of him.

Paul Mero, an LDS member who runs the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City, said Mormons can be described as having mainstream values, strong work and cultural ethics, ambitions to be “at the top of the list” - Utah has twice been praised as the best-managed state - “and we like that,” he said.

“We are still peculiar as an orthodox faith,” Mr. Mero added, but “we know who we are…and when Latter-day Saints put their shoulders to the wheel, good things happen typically, whether it’s disaster relief or the [2002 Winter] Olympics” in Salt Lake City.

Other highlights of “Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society”:

c 50 percent of Mormons perceive “hostility” toward them from evangelical Christians; another 21 percent think evangelicals are neutral toward them, and 18 percent believe evangelicals are friendly toward them.

c 74 percent of Mormon registered voters are Republican or lean Republican, 17 percent are or lean to the Democrats and 9 percent are or lean toward independent.

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