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Social Scientists: Anti-Mormonism Rising among Liberals

A new study has confirmed what Via Meadia readers already know: as Mitt Romney’s candidacy has progressed and his political star has risen, anti-Mormon sentiment among  liberals has also increased. BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins reports:

Americans’ aversion to voting for Mormons has spiked since Mitt Romney’s first presidential bid in 2007—and . . . the people most wary of Mormon candidates are not Evangelicals, but rather political liberals and non-religious voters, according to new research from a leading scholar of anti-Mormon attitudes. . . .

According to the paper, concern about Mormonism has remained relatively stable among Evangelicals, with 36 percent expressing aversion to an LDS candidate in 2007 and 33 percent doing so in 2012. But among non-religious voters, that number shot up 20 points in the past five years, from 21 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in February. There were also substantial increases in Mormon-averse voters among liberals—28 percent in 2007 and 43 percent in 2012—as well as moderates, who went from 22 percent in 2007 to 32 percent this year.

These findings are as unsurprising to us as they are disturbing. Via Meadia has documented a depressing array of instances in which anti-religious smears against Latter-Day Saints have been voiced by prominent members of the fashionable left. Partisan writers who would normally condemn such bigotry if directed at Muslims or Jews have found themselves unable to resist deploying the same odious rhetoric when it suits their political prejudices.

And these aren’t isolated incidents of partisan excess. A quick recap finds such utterances to be as prominent as they are perverse:

  • In the pages of the New York Times, Yale’s Harold Bloom warned of an impending Mormon theocracy should Romney be elected. So did Salon‘s Sally Denton, relying on innuendo and a spurious “prophecy” most Mormons are wholly unaware of. (Never mind that the LDS Church barely even has a lobbying apparatus.)
  • Also at the Times, columnists Charles Blow and Maureen Dowd mocked the faith’s ritual undergarments (the former, to his credit, has since apologized).
  • Over at liberal stronghold MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell sensitively explained that Mormonism’s founder invented the faith to legitimize his own adultery by religiously sanctioning polygamy. This was, as Time noted, spiteful, ahistorical bunk.
  • Million-dollar Obama donor and talk show host Bill Maher has repeatedly called the LDS Church a “cult” and “stupid” on national television.
  • Democratic Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer tried to insinuate that the LDS Church’s prior practice of polygamy should somehow hurt a Romney candidacy, as the Governor’s family, he said, came from a “polygamy commune in Mexico.” Never mind that the practice has been banned by the Church for more than a century and has absolutely nothing to do with Romney, his life choices (and his 40-year marriage) or the 2012 election.

And this is just the beginning of the campaign.

Team Obama, for its part, has stated that “Attacking a candidate’s religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it, and we don’t think others should either.” But the campaign still takes Maher’s money and has turned a blind eye to the bigoted statements of its cheerleaders at the Times, Salon, MSNBC, and elsewhere.

The administration’s failure to censure these sentiments is deeply disappointing. After all, as a candidate and president, Obama has himself been opportunistically maligned as a crypto-Muslim by political opponents seeking to cash in on religious bigotry. Of all people, he should understand the cost of letting such hateful ideas go unchecked in the political discourse. If Obama can’t find it in himself to denounce blatant religious intolerance, who will?

Let’s hope this study demonstrating the alarming rise of anti-Mormonism on the left serves as a wake-up call to the many decent and sensible liberals of this country who know that bigotry is wrong, no matter one’s politics. Some, like Walter Kirn, have already begun commendably calling out their own. Here’s to hoping he will soon be joined by many others.

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  • Jonathan D

    I have a feeling that “Evangelical Christianity” would also warrant revulsion from the Left, primarily because they equate that with the types of policies they disapprove of. I think this is more of a nothingburger than Mead would have us believe.

    Having said that, Mormonism is part of who Mitt Romney is, and we would be well-served better understanding the religion in all of its complexity.

  • Harry Allan

    Does any research compare liberal attitudes toward LDS with their attitudes toward highly observant Protestants, Catholics and Jews? I’m still wondering if this hostility is directed toward LDS per se or toward strongly held religion in general.

    Obviously, this question doesn’t apply to Evangelicals

  • Jbird

    I wonder how Harry Reid feels about this.

  • WigWag

    This just isn’t an intelligent post; first Via Meadia asserts that anti-Mormonism is rising among liberals and then as the first count in its indictment, Via Meadia mentions the New York Times op-ed by Harold Bloom.

    Sometimes it’s hard not to wonder how the proprietors of this blog can be so clueless. Whatever else he may be, Harold Bloom is no spokesperson for the left; in fact he’s despised on the left. He’s castigated “feminist” and “racial” interpretations of classic literature and he’s practically been the major spokesperson of the past two decades lamenting the idiocy of multiculturalism and political correctness. He’s hated by the left primarily because the left views him as the most eloquent and educated culture warrior that the right has to offer.

    Putting aside for the moment the bizarre assertion that Bloom’s op-ed was all that disrespectful of the Mormon religion; even if it was, it would be evidence of animosity towards the LDS Church by the right not by the left.

    How in the world Via Meadia thinks that the putative anti-Mormonism of a stalwart opponent of the left is evidence of anti-Mormon animosity by “liberals” is simply impossible to fathom. What it is, is evidence of the muddled thinking that too often characterizes the posts on this blog dealing with domestic issues. If Bloom’s feelings about Mormonism are evidence of the left’s bigotry towards Mormons, then Ayan Rand was a Marxist, Oscar Wilde was a heterosexual and Yasser Arafat was a Zionist.

    Personally I don’t think that the tenets of Romney’s religion are all that strange. I just don’t understand why some people think that the Mormon belief that God and his son Jesus are two separate corporeal beings is so much more strange than the idea God assumed human form as the child of a virgin to cleanse the world of the sin of the first human couple who disobediently partook of the fruit of a forbidden tree.

    Nor does the enthusiasm with which some Mormons baptize non-Mormons after their death seem that much stranger to me than the idea that the deity cares whether or not the animals that humans eat have cloven hooves.

    I actually think that Romney makes a pretty compelling presidential candidate; his co-religionists don’t offend me any more than the co-religionists who sat with Obama in the pews of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ.

    But I can’t help but wonder how far Via Meadia’s tolerance actually extends. Would it, for example, be equally outraged by the criticism if the Republican candidate were an acolyte of L. Ron Hubbard instead of Joseph Smith? How about if he were an acolyte of Sun Myoung Moon?

    Would Via Meadia be as tolerant of scientology as it is of Mormonism? Would it be as tolerant of the Unification Church?

    I doubt it.

  • Bill H.

    If Obama accepting Maher’s $1 million means he condones Maher’s attacks on Mormonism, then Romney’s acceptance of Shedlon Adelson’s $10 million means he condone’s Adelson’s attacks on Romney previously this year. The fact of the matter is candidates cannot coordinate with their super pacs, which is where the donations are made. All Obama can do is condemn attacks on a candidate’s religion, which is what he already did.

  • http://N/A Trail Head

    Bigotry is bigotry, whether from the Right or teh Left. In undergrad school in Missouri, I was constantly assailed by bigots on the right who would greet you upon first meeting them, by saying, “Well today certainly is a glorious day in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!” Then turn, look me in the face and demand, “ISN’T it?” Whether the response was positive or negative then colored everything about how they behaved. Now living in the Pacific Northwest, bigots on the Left issue the same liutmus test, saying, “”Well, things certainly will get better if Obama is reelected,” then add, “WON’T they?” to fish for a response. The size of their sneer will be in direct proportion to the degree of Left in one’s answer. I get a bit of deja vu each time, because it is clear that their narrow and limited worldview is based on the need to feel superior to another person and not in any genuine pursuit of the truth. The bigots on the Right have to swallow the terror of having a person of a different faith in the White House (anybody remember the “concerns” about President Kennedy’s Catholicism?), while the bigots on the Left have to endure the calamity of representation by anyone who fails to toe the progressive line. Once our arms gedt too tired to engage in anymore finger pointing, we may recall that Walt Kelly summed it all up for us many years ago when his character of “Pogo” said, “We have met the enemy — and it’s us.”

  • Corlyss

    “Anti-Mormonism Rising among Liberals”

    “The administration’s failure to censure these sentiments is deeply disappointing. After all, as a candidate and president, Obama has himself been opportunistically maligned as a crypto-Muslim by political opponents seeking to cash in on religious bigotry. Of all people, he should understand the cost of letting such hateful ideas go unchecked in the political discourse.”

    Please. The Nixon playbook says you do what you must. If it means sending surrogates out to denigrate your opponent’s religion, esp. if its image in the public mind is vague and malignant, you do precisely that. I believe I was the first to question Prof. Mead’s enthusiasm for Obama’s early statements that he most certainly wouldn’t go after Mitt’s Mormonism. Note: HE wouldn’t go after Mormonism. What OTHERS might do in his name, no comment.

  • ms

    I think the increased animosity towards Mormons from liberals in the past few years is a byproduct of Mormon promotion of Prop 8 in California in 2008. The hateful rhetoric and behavior towards Mormons at that time was truly shocking, though news of it was suppressed by the media, of course. In some countries that have legalized gay marriage, Canada and the Netherlands (if memory serves) I read recently that movements are afoot to force all churches to perform gay marriages or face–who knows–social ostracism at the very least, and steep fines or withdrawn legal status. I very much doubt that Mormons and Catholics are going to cave on this issue, nor should they. In the meantime, it has become impossible to have any kind of reasonable discussion about this topic, and we very much need a reasonable discussion because family formation really really matters to children and everybody else. There is far too much superficial thinking about this and unwillingness to acknowledge that the religious freedom implications are huge. IMHO, however, religious freedom, already under attack by Obama, is in for a rough ride, which means that Mormons and Catholics are also in for some tough times.

  • Luke Lea

    If Romney were a Democrat it would be the conservative Republicans getting worried. Face it, this is nothing more than routine partisan politics.

  • Tom


    Scientology was developed by L. Ron Hubbard on a bet. Bit of a difference between it and Mormonism there–Joseph Smith at least probably believed what he was saying.

  • jamesbbkk

    Perhaps people should just be able to freely criticize others that form themselves into groups and associations based on the nature or cause of the grouping or association and its habits. Some groups are in need of critique.

    I, for one, would not consider it an exercise of religious freedom or freedom of association to have a rule wherein a person that happens to drop in certain geographical spots on the planet must adhere to the prevailing state-sponsored religion or be killed. Such an “apostacy” rule in this day and age – or in any day and age – by whatever group made and enforced it merely a tool for control and tyranny to be criticized at any and every opportunity – whether the killing was state-sponsored or merely tolerated by the state.

  • amenhammer

    The Mormons need to behead a few “progressives”
    and the MSM will find civility very quickly.

  • PTL

    Anti-religion is a common strain of the Left.
    Anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism and anti-evangelicals are the norm among the Leftists-Marxists. The Left worships pagan gods
    like the sun, trees, “climate change.” If you don’t believe in god you’re liable to believe
    in anything or anyone. Obama.

  • thibaud

    Another over-the-top post. Obama’s not a muslim or a “crypto-muslim.” Romney is indeed a mormon and has no doubt heard worse slurs in his long career. He’s a big boy and can take the heat.

    If this episode demonstrates anything, it’s why Americans should shun candidates who talk about their views on supernatural phenomena and any other displays of religiosity.

    Religiosity is irrelevant when we choose our generals, CEOs, judges, doctors, university presidents and other leaders to whom we entrust awesome powers. It’s irrelevant to anyone’s qualification for political office.

  • ari

    so obama’s election committee is getting warmed up?

    Harold Bloom in his own books has predicted a Mormon president at about 2020. Mitt Romney is an over-achiever, getting there 8 years earlier.

    Since Mr Bloom is a fairly self- dramatizing idiot when it comes to religion, I’m not too concerned about his japes. The others are just partisan, mean and foolish. I’d rather they take on more evangelicals, who at least aren’t trying to “be sweet.”

  • FrancisChalk

    The media and so-called liberal pundit class care not one iota about religious bigotry. Normal, clear-thinking people must continually remind themselves of this irrefutable fact: ALL liberals, leftists, progressives, MSM members, feminists, environmentalists, greens, social justice types, UN lovers, PC supporters, multiculturalists, antiwar activists, PETA members, One-worlders, and Democrats only care about one thing, and absolutely one thing ONLY: the advancement of worldwide Socialism/Marxism/Communism. Causes are supported only to the extent that they advance that goal and for NO OTHER reason. Period. Dot.

  • Arisatomedes

    I suspect much of the increase of intolerance for Mormonism both on the left and among the moderates, as well as the non-religious, is a simple reflection of Mormon intolerance toward homosexuals. While it seems there are a growing number of Mormons who are accepting us, the heavy Mormon backing of Proposition 8 in California still stings.
    I was a Goldwater Republican (at 16) and my political thought really has not changed much since. Intolerance towards homosexuals drove me out of the Republican Party over 40 years ago and
    those conditions have not changed much, either. And the Republicans have over the years shown little commitment in action to free-market economics: they may give it lip service, but their actions belie them again and again. I wanted a choice, but after ’64 Republicans have been mostly just an echo of the Democrats. I’ve been a Libertarian ever since. This year doesn’t seem much different from the last ten presidential elections in the above regards.

  • Alec Rawls

    Meade writes: “Obama has himself been opportunistically maligned as a crypto-Muslim by political opponents seeking to cash in on religious bigotry.”

    What a total load of [profanity removed]. Obama has been given a pass on his Muslim background–most importantly by McCain’s making it off limits for his campaign, despite Obama’s numerous documented lies about his ties to Islam (claiming he did not engage in Islamic prayers when several childhood friends and teachers said that he was avid about attending prayers, etcetera).

    The idea that Obama has been unfairly maligned over his religion is ludicrous.

  • Alan Grey

    The left bashes the Jews too…they have just learned they need to be more subtle about it.

  • jh79

    Regarding the above fifth point – the charge that having a polygamist as an ancestor is a disqualifying characteristic – since this silliness erupted it has always seemed strange to me that one particular fact rarely seems to enter the discussion: If (for some reason) polygamy in one’s family tree makes one utterly unpalatable to the electorate… how does one explain Barack Hussein Obama, who was born into polygamy? The minds of liberals are obviously far too subtle for me, I who must rely on things like logic and non-contradiction.

  • rkka


    Of course it’s libruls who are the problem here, as with everything else Mead posts about.

    Why, that wacky Blue Model even calls for financing two wars with tax cuts! No conservative president and Congress would ever *even think* of doing such a loony thing!

  • Ann

    I am not a Mormon but I grew up in a town that was started as a stop on the Mormon trail. It was a small town at first, but it grew into a fairly large town. Although it is associated as an industry town (and that industry was financed by Mormon bankers), it does and did have some other vital components that were more government related. Mormons have been ensconced in every aspect of this town’s government for over 100 years. They pretty much ran the law enforcement agencies and court systems as well as the local government for most of the town’s history, If there were ever a town ripe for a Mormon theocracy it would be this town. The name of the town is Las Vegas.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    President Obama’s rejection of the idea of using Romney’s religion as a campaign point was totally pro forma, while thete is no evidence that he or his campaign have taken anyone to the woodshed over their attacks on Mormons and Romney for being Mormon. By contrast, when Cory Booker and Bill Clinton daid positive things about Romney’s work in private equity making money for public teacher pension funds, their leashes wete visibly yanked within 24 hours. If Obama cared about the bigoted attacks on Romney’s religion they would respond the same way, but they ckearly have not, and so the bigots continue.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    One more point: Mr. Obama is presudent of the United States, and its people. He is president for six million Mormons. Just as President Bush, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, sought to defuse animosity toward the Muslim community in the US, President Obama has a duty in the interest of justice and equality and domestic tranquility to denounce religious bigotry toward Mormons, just as he would be expected to denounce it if directed toward Jews. His failure of leadership in this moral sphere demonstrates that he is a partisan of certain factions in our nation, and does not even conceive of himself as having a duty to all citizens.

  • richard40

    To wigwag.
    I’ll take your word on Harold Bloom not being a real leftist. The right has a similar problem with claims that David Brooks is a conservative. But this article also had several other references of leftists attacking the Mormon faith, and you have not refuted them.

    Your question on what religions are considered a cult is an interesting one. About 100 yrs ago I would have considered Mormonism to be a cult, but now I would consider them to be a mainstream faith. Now I would still consider the scientologist and moonies to be cults, but in another 100 yrs or so they might evolve into mainstream religions. The key standards I would use are:
    1. How dependent is the new religion on their charismatic founder, vs being able to maintain their doctrine and popularity without him.
    2. How well integrated is the religion into the rest of society. Do most of their members live normal lives, or do they seperate themselves into their own community, with that seperate community being hostile to the rest of society.
    3. How long have they been around. If a new religion has some real legs and staying power, it will still be around after 100 yrs, while the bad ones will flame out.
    4. How well does the religion play with others. Do they constantly have violent incidents with others, or do they estrange parents from their children, or themselves from the wider community.

    By these tests, I would rate LDS as still a cult about 100 yrs ago, but mainstream now. And I would still rate scientology and moonies as cults, but admit that in another 50-100 yrs maybe they wont be. Islam is even harder, since I would rate them as a mainstream religion, but they also fail on some of my criteria, like playing well with others.

  • richard40

    By the way, I think a candidates faith should be relevant, but not in the way some on the left are doing it. I would place several limits on this type of discourse.

    1. Nobody should be held responsible for deeds or beleifs of their faith many years ago, if those deeds or beleifs have since been officially repudited by that church. They should only be responsible for what their church beleives today. (eg: You cant still blame episcapalians for henry the 8, catholics for the medieval popes, or the jews for killing christ, since those religions have long since repudiated those deeds.
    2. Dont bring up some strange practice or doctrine unless it could actually affect the candidates public policy positions. So if a religion had strange ideas about the trinity, strange underwear, had some strange saints, strange rituals, or whatever, those are purely personal beleifs that would probably not affect public policy, or affect anybody outside of that faith, and should not be relevant to a candidate. But if a church still beleived in polygamy, still beleived that government should treat other faiths differently than their own, that apostates can be punished by the state, beleives america is evil, or beleives that white or black people are evil, beleived in redistributive social justice, banning abortion, or expanding the faith using force rather than persuasion, those beleifs would have public policy implications. In that case it is legit to question a candidate about them, and inquire whether the candidate would restrict those beleifs to his personal life, or whether he might try to impliment them as policy.

  • lhf

    Somehow Mormonism is not a problem when the Mormon is a Democrat. Harry Reid is one example, and his silence in the face of these attacks is shameful. There are other examples – take the Udalls, some of who even ran for President! I don’t recall any press people or comedians carrying on about cults or polygamy.

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