There are always some people whose ideas are considered bad or dangerous by other people. For instance, in answering the following questions, consider a fundamentalist Mormon who advocates polygamy, the Adam-God doctrine, racial restrictions on priesthood, and other elements of the Mormon past as eternal truths.
Parallel survey questions addressing communists and atheists, which are due to Samuel Stouffer (Communism, Conformity, and Civil Liberties, 1955) have been asked of random samples of the American public on various occasions. After a fair number of BCC readers have had the chance to respond, I’ll compare our attitudes toward fundamentalist Mormons with those recorded regarding communists and atheists among the general public and discuss the meaning of the results.
As I write this conclusion to the post, we’ve had 164 people respond to the questions above. Of those people, about 95% have voted to allow fundamentalists to give speeches advocating polygamy, to teach in universities, and to have books in the public library. These numbers provide some evidence that BCC readers are far more likely to tolerate Mormon fundamentalists than the American public as a whole is to tolerate groups that it dislikes. Data from a 1954 survey (published in the Stouffer book mentioned above) show that 37% of Americans would allow an atheist to speak in public, 12% would allow her to teach, and 35% would allow a book written by her to remain in a public library. By 1977, these percentages had increased a lot (63%, 39%, and 60%, respectively), but some evidence suggests that the increase was due in large part to a decline in the depth of people’s dislike for atheists (see Sullivan, Piereson, and Marcus’s 1979 article in the American Political Science Review 73(3): 781-94). If we instead make sure to choose a group that the respondent dislikes, the percentage of people in the US as a whole who give tolerant answers on these questions as late as 1998 is only about 21% (see Mondak and Sanders’s 2003 article in the American Journal of Political Science 47(3): 492-502).
So, how do we interpret the very positive scores for BCC readers on this scale? Perhaps BCC readers don’t dislike Mormon fundamentalists — or perhaps our respondents are simply extraordinarily tolerant and committed to civil liberties in comparison with other Americans. Either of these conclusions needs to be modified by the realization that our respondents were not a random sample of anything. Nevertheless, there were enough of them, and the results were decisive enough, to believe that it probably means something.
So the next time someone says to you that Mormons aren’t liberal, you should feel ready to respond: “Well, if by liberal you mean civil-libertarian, and if by Mormons you mean BCC readers, then you’re completely wrong — and I’ve got the numbers to illustrate (not prove) my point!”