Over at BCC there were a few people claiming in the comments how Mormons were for Donald Trump for President. Now I completely understand why people would say this, given that Trump won Utah in the election. However I think that at best one needs to seriously qualify this statement.
First off if people recall during the primaries the media constantly talked about how anti-Trump Mormons were. Not only did Trump only get 14% of the primary vote but the New York Times reported that top Mormons were in an “all out revolt” against Trump. A quick Google shows dozens upon dozens of stories about Mormon opposition to Trump. Slate’s “Why Mormons Don’t Like Trump” is but one example. To neglect these stories is at best to be doing significant historical revisionism.
Of course people claiming Mormons support Trump would note that for all the opposition they still voted for Trump. While that’s a fair point, again I think it has to be examined before going too far. To draw an analogy, suppose the neighborhood bully comes up to you and says, “I’m going to punch you in the face or kick you in the gut. You pick.” You pick the kick. Now it’d be ridiculous to say you were for getting kicked in the gut. To say you’re for something entails some reasonable degree of approval. I’m not sure Mormons gave that. There are several reasons for that.
First, beyond just Trump’s dismal showing in the primaries we have the huge ridiculous size of the swing in the GOP vote in Utah, a Mormon stronghold. The GOP vote share went from 72.6% in 2012 to 45.9% in 2016. That’s nearly a 30 point swing which is almost unheard of in Presidential elections. Not only that but third party voting went from 2.7% in 2012 to 26.3% in 2016. That’s not exactly a sign of widespread support for Trump. Trump couldn’t even get a majority in Utah. Beyond those figures though, we actually know how many people voting for Trump were voting for him rather than against Clinton. Exit polls had 49% of Trump voters saying they were voting against the other candidates.
Next, a recent Utah Policy poll of approval of Trump has 52% of Utahns with an unfavorable view of Trump. Only 45% view him favorable. Admittedly that’s higher than national figures but surprisingly low for an overwhelmingly Republican state.
It is true that according to Pew’s national exit polls 61% of LDS voted for Trump. That’s still a huge drop from Romney (78%) or Bush (80%). In Utah according to exit polls only 45% of Mormons voted for Trump – a minority and a little more than half of what Romney got. Don Peay, the Trump campaign’s Utah state director said, “clearly the epicenter of the anti-Trump movement in the country was in Utah.”
So were Mormons for Trump? It’s hard to really make the claim they were or are. The numbers are very low especially considering how overwhelmingly conservative American Mormons tend to be. It seems the best explanation was that both parties nominated extremely unpopular figures – so disliked that it really lacks parallel in the post-war period. While it’s not fair to blame Democrats for Donald Trump, the reality appears to be that had they had a candidate more liked than Clinton, Trump would almost certainly have lost. That probably would have been true even in Utah even acknowledging that people often are voting less for the person than for a certain set of policy outcomes.