Will the first Mormon POTUS, if there ever is one, be a Democrat or a Republican? The knee-jerk response, of course, is that he or she will be a Republican because the Church is viewed primarily as a conservative institution and because far more Mormons are politically conservative than politically liberal (but it doesn't have to be that way!).
But digging a little deeper may reveal some interesting opposition to this notion, despite the decades of religious-type devotion Utahns and Mormons have shown to the Republican party.
There are currently six Mormon U.S. Senators, all from the West. It is well known at this point that Senate President Harry Reid is a Democrat and that the Utah Senators (Sen. Hatch and Sen. Bennett) are Republicans. Two of the remaining three Mormon Senators, however, are Democrats: the cousins Udall (Mark from Colorado and Tom from New Mexico). The other Mormon Senator is Idaho's Mike Crapo. That makes an even 3-3, with the tie-breaker going to the Democrats because they have the Senate President.
So it is apparent that a Mormon Democrat can be a viable candidate. The most interesting question, however, is whether a Mormon could ever be nominated for President in the Republican primary. This is a primary dominated by the religious right and Southern Baptist conservatives. John McCain, in 2000, ran a campaign that explicitly defied the political power of the religious right, going so far as to call Jerry Falwell an "agent of evil," and was defeated by George W. Bush, who explicitly ran to the religious right.
In 2008 John McCain changed his tone, courted the religious right, and won the nomination easily. Mitt Romney also explicitly courted the religious right, but didn't have a prayer. Between McCain and Huckabee, the Southern Baptists could easily overlook Romney for someone who was less Mormon. Huckabee famously fueled the flames of religious ire by asking the rhetorical and contextless question of whether Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. He quickly retracted the statement, but the damage was done.
As a Democrat I am often angry at the way the extreme left of my party treats religion in general and Mormonism specifically. Part of the purpose of this blog is to prove that a Mormon can be a Democrat, but also that a Democrat can be a Mormon. But I wonder if there the same amount of anger that Mormon Republicans feel towards the extreme right of their party that distrusts Mormons and would, under no circumstances, support a Mormon president, even if he or she was conservative.
A Gallup poll taken in February 2007 attempted to gauge Americans' views of our religion. It showed that Mormons have a net -10 (42-52) favorability rating among Republicans, a smaller net -4 (43-47) among Democrats, and a net +8 (48-40) among independents. Protestants, who make up the vast majority of conservative voters, had a net -16 (36-52) view of Mormons, while Catholics had a net +25 (56-31), and those professing no religion had a net -7 (39-46). It is also the case that the more religious the person, the more negative view she has of Mormons. Again, the Republican party is dominated by more frequent church-goers. By all of these measures it appears that a Mormon is more likely to be voted in by Democrats and independents than by Republicans. By ideology, however, the reverse is true, in a big way. Those that consider themselves conservatives have a net -1 (44-45) favorability, while those that consider themselves liberal have a net -33 (28-61), and moderates have a net +8 (48-40) view of Mormons.
I'm not sure what to make of the fact that Mormons poll better among Democrats than Republicans, but worse among liberals than conservatives. That appears to be a contradiction and may even itself out between the two.
So what does all of this mean? First, don't hold your breath for a Mormon President any time soon from either party. Even though moderates and independents have a net positive view of Mormons, the more extreme wings of both parties do not, for different reasons entirely, and they decide who wins the nomination.
But there is no doubt right now that Democrats are currently doing more work appealing to independents and swing voters, while Republicans are having an internal debate about whether to become a more "big-tent" party or to establish an ideological purity, and the latter seems to be winning out. Given that, I think right now it might be more likely that a Mormon president be a Democrat than a Republican.