Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Effect of Liberal Dominance on Mormon Voters

Liberals and progressives have a lot on their plate right now. The House just passed a cap-and-trade bill for greenhouse gases, which now moves on to the Senate. The Senate is debating a health care bill and whether or not it should include a public option. Al Franken just became the 60th Democrat in the Senate making Democratic bills, in theory, filibuster-proof. And Pres. Obama has begun drawing down troops in Iraq, much to the pleasure of Iraqis.

With firm majorities in both the Senate and House, a popular president, and strong public support for its policies on everything from the environment to health care to immigration, Democrats appear to be heading for something of a modern golden age of liberalism. The question I'm asking myself, though, is if this will have an effect on Mormon politics.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s when Republicans were dominating national politics, Democrats took several steps toward the center. They abandoned gun-control as a major issue, they moved toward fiscal responsibility, they became more hawkish in foreign policy, and the like. As they made this move Republicans also shifted towards the right on foreign policy, morality politics, and tax policy. Because of this, and the morality politics in particular, Mormon conservatives were able to re-entrench and solidify the base.

But Republicans seemed to have gone too far to the right and then, as all politicians are liable to do, became drunk with power, embroiled in scandals, and rank with hypocrisy. They also were in power when the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression punched the nation in the stomach. The natural result was big Democratic gains in both elected leaders and public support of policy. The big showdown in Republican circles now is whether to reinvest in pure conservatism or to moderate and become a big-tent party. The latter worked for Democrats until public opinion swung to the left in the past five years, the former appears to be winning out for now, as the dominant conservative voices are Limbaugh, Gingrich, Hannity, Beck, and Cheney.

Will all of this shake Mormon voters loose from the firm grasp of ultra-conservatism and allow them to morph into a more moderate and diverse demographic? I think the current political climate is almost guaranteed to have such an effect. Polls show that young people and minorities are identifying overwhelmingly with Democrats, and that is also exactly where the growth of the church is coming from.

So while this may be the beginning of a fairly lengthy run of liberal domination like the Republicans enjoyed recently, it might also be a time of significant shifts in Mormon political demographics. Time will tell.


Laurel Nelson said...

Al Franken has made it? There's a filibuster proof majority??? AWESOME!!!!! Sweet!!!! Now if they can just stop squabbling amongst themselves they can get A LOT done this year before the Republicans try to take it away....

Iliana said...

Possible, but who knows. I'm actually surprised with how "ultra-conservative" young LDS are that I know and live around me. Sometimes even more so than my parents generation. I think that some are even more shackled to their conservatism to completely defy and show thier distaste for the "ultra-liberalism" that democrats like to say has swept everyone's belief system.

Steve M. said...

Iliana has a point. I fear that many LDS youth are fiercely devoted to conservatism, as a consequence to coming of age in an extremely polarized time. Among my generation (mid-twenty-something Mormons), conservatism is deeply entrenched.

But the story may be different for current teenagers. On the one hand, the Republican Party is disintegrating right in front of their eyes (after eight disastrous years in power). If Democrats--and more specifically, Barack Obama--can do a decent job governing, they may gain some popularity among LDS youth.

The one thing that gives me pause, however, is gay marriage. Although support for marriage equality is becoming more widespread (especially among youth), it's still a hugely controversial and divisive issue. So long as both the Church and the GOP remain visible and vocal opponents of gay marriage, I believe that LDS faithful will largely identify with the GOP. Given that so many people are single-issue voters, the Church's position on gay marriage will continue to be seen by many as tacit endorsement of political conservatism.

brent said...

There is zero chance Mormons will en masse join what is now known as the left in this country. Mormons are (1) White, (2) concerned with family and affordable family formation, (3) not concentrated on the east or west coast.

Mormons could come to identify with the economic and environmental programs of the left that are consistent with WASP culture and family formation but only if the Stephen R. Covey Doctrines lose their stranglehold on the minds of men in the church and apparently the brethren.

---- To understand what I mean by the Stephen Covey Doctrine just read Hugh Nibley quoting Brigham Young and then read Spiritual Roots of Human Relations - you'll cry a little inside.

Alternatively, Mormons could just welcome enough third-world converts over the next 50 years so that the WASP cultural values are diluted and the Mormons come to prefer a South American type "big man" "nanny state."

Jacob S. said...

I'm not saying that all Mormons are ultra-conservative, nor am I expecting Mormons to start flocking to the Democratic party convention and caucuses and becoming ultra-liberal. But there is no doubt that right now Democrats are in solid control of the country and that a strong majority of the public agrees with its policies. I was simply wondering aloud whether or not this will have a moderating effect on Mormon politics.

I agree that a lot of young people are still very conservative, but this is, of course, anecdotal and I wonder if young Mormons broadly will be effected by the liberal shift the nation is experiencing.

Andrew said...

"I agree that a lot of young people are still very conservative, but this is, of course, anecdotal and I wonder if young Mormons broadly will be effected by the liberal shift the nation is experiencing."

I agree that this is very anecdotal; I think it depends on which part of the animal you're examining. I'm fairly confident that all of my younger brothers' friends, for instance, voted for Obama. On the other hand, many of my friends (only a couple of years older) voted for McCain and tend to be Conservative. We all grew up in the same Utah town under (largely) the same conditions, so it's interesting to see the differences.

The situation is ripe for an enterprising graduate student or someone else to do a comprehensive survey to figure out a.) where Mormons are politically in Utah, b.) where they are outside of Utah, c.) is there a significant difference between the two, and d.) how closely does it track to the political trends of the general population. Perhaps the BYU Political Science department could or already is pursuing something along these lines?

Andrew said...

...And answering my own question:

Latter-Day Political Views (Jeffrey Carl Fox, 2006)

I think I may have to order this.

Anonymous said...

The real issue is the mormon elite vs. the mormon common people. The main leaders will most likely be republicans, and hold the power in making policy. The average joe will have a more open view of the world around him. What this means is that the bishop will tell the ward to vote "yes" but many members will vote "no" in private. The next Sunday meeting will go on like nothing happened.