Mormons in the 2018 Congressional Election

Back in 2012, BCC ran a series of blog posts by Bob and Kay King, Latter-day Saints who have decades of experience in government. We’re thrilled that they’ve written an update after the 2018 midterms. In a break with current Twitter-inspired norms of political reporting, Kay and Bob have been methodical and thorough in their discussion, and their piece is longer than a typical blog post. It’s attached below as a pdf, and we have great confidence that our readers are up to the task of reading a few pages before commenting! Mormons in the 2018 Congressional Election (Updated)

Here are just a few of the important points Bob and Kay highlight (but do read the attached document–these are much more interesting in context!):

–Bottom Line: Fewer Mormons will serve in Congress in 2019 than at any time since
1981—that is over 38 years.

The new Congress which begins January 3 will have 10
Latter-day Saints; 4 Mormon senators and 6 congressmen. The current session of
Congress which concludes in just a few days has 6 Mormon Senators and 7 Members of
the House of Representatives for a total of 13 Latter-day Saints—three more than we will
see in January 2019.

–Between 1896 and 1951, Mormons in Congress (all but one from Utah) were 61% Democratic and 39% Republican. From 1951 to 1981, when most Mormons in Congress still represented Utah (though Idaho and a few other states began electing some Mormons representatives during that time), Mormons serving in Congress were Democrats 51% of the time and Republican 49%.

Since 1981 Mormons in Congress have shifted sharply to the Republican column—27% Democrats and 73% Republican. In the last decade or so, Mormons in Congress have been even more heavily tilted to the Republican side. As a result of the 2018 election, there is one Democrat (Tom Udall of New Mexico) continuing to serve in the U.S. Senate, and there will be one new Democratic representative in the House (Ben McAdams of Utah, elected in 2018). (Data extrapolated and updated from Robert R. King and Kay Atkinson King, “Mormons in Congress, 1851-2000,” Journal of Mormon History, 26:2 Fall 2000.)

–On the eve of the election, however, Romney was more critical of Trump. He said President Trump’s attacking the news media as “the enemy of the people” was detrimental to democracy. Some who are concerned with Trump’s negative influence in the Republican Party are hopeful that Romney will stand up to him. If he is still harboring presidential ambitions, he will likely be extremely cautious, since the last election showed that the Republican Party is Donald Trump’s party. Romney is unlikely to be as reliable and uncritical a supporter of Trump as Hatch was, but he also is unlikely to be an outspoken critic of the President.

Robert R. King was a Chief of Staff to a California Congressman and Staff Director of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Kay Atkinson King was Chief of Staff to a New Hampshire Congressman, Director of Inter-parliamentary Affairs of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House, and senior advisor to a California Congressman and senior advisor to the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


  1. Deseret Defender says:

    The prophet of the Lord has asked us to stop referring to ourselves as “mormon.” Please set an example for your readers by following his counsel.

  2. ^Read the piece, DD. They note that in the first paragraph.

  3. Deseret Defender says:

    Acknowledgement of disobedience does not excuse it.

    “Members” is just as succinct and clear as “mormons.”

  4. I don’t know what your problem is, DD, but I’ll bet it’s hard to pronounce.

  5. Eyes now open... says:

    I have been dutifully trying to follow the umpteenth request to rebrand ourselves as Latter-day Saints. That said, I am disturbed by the claim Satan rejoices when we use the term “Mormon”. Did anyone tell President Hinckley (my favorite prophet!) that when he authorized the “I Am a Mormon” campaign? I thought Satan rejoiced when abusers harm women and children. Or maybe over something like the Holocaust. Who knew Satan has time to worry about semantics?

  6. Rachel E O says:

    Thanks for sharing this interesting summary.

    One correction: “The Republican primary for governor had seven candidates, and Labrador came in second with 32.6% of the vote. The retiring Secretary of State received 37.3% of the primary vote and won the primary.” Brad Little, who won the Idaho Republican primary for governor and then went on to win the governorship, was not the retiring secretary of state, but rather the retiring lieutenant governor.

  7. Fascinating. I had not realized that our membership’s overall partisan rightward shift had coincided with a decline in nationwide influence. Correlation isn’t necessarily causation, but still, it should make us think.

  8. Deseret Defender should consider going by Deseret D-bag.

  9. “Fewer Mormons will serve in Congress in 2019 than at any time since
    1981—that is over 38 years.”

    This is a trend (or development) that fascinates me. Are we becoming more insular? Did Romney’s run distract us in some way?

    Given how heavily Republican the Mormon caucus is, as blue shift in the house would seem to have this type of impact on Mormon numbers in Congress.

    I also wonder if the Trump takeover of the GOP is having an impact. While Mormons are reliable Republicans, they are odd fits within Trump’s GOP. This could be having an impact in primaries where incumbents are being replaced.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    I just read the full piece. Very interesting.

  11. Really fascinating insights. I’m very curious how these stats are going to change in the post-Trump era. Will large civil society groups like the Mormon Women for Ethical government spur more women to run and do it left of center? Will McAdams be able to hold on to the Mormon vote in the Trump era, but not beyond? Thanks for this really thoughtful information.

  12. As Chris notes, this shift (trend?) downward for a Mormon presence in Congress makes for questions regarding the Trump segment of the country and the GOP. Was it some kind of backlash that Mormon candidates-wrong place wrong time-in which they were caught? Lots of questions.

  13. I vaguely knew, in an it’s before my lifetime way, that Mormons used to include more Democrats. I hadn’t realized until reading this how MUCH more they used to include Democrats, and how sharp the moral majority turn was. Wow.

  14. Michael Austin says:

    In the Senate, I think, the decline was for two very specific reasons. In Nevada, I think, Dean Heller lost because the state itself has moved to the left over the past few elections, and he was (by a very narrow margin) too conservative for the electorate. Jeff Flake, though, was really forced out by Arizona Republicans for not being conservative enough–and for not paying sufficient obeisance at the altar of Trump. If he had been more conservative, he probably would have survived the primary and (I am guessing) won re-election. And interestingly, though the person who eventually won the seat, Kyrsten Sinema, is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she is a BYU graduate and former CoJCLDS member who, at least arguably, can be categorized in the larger cultural category of “Mormon.” And the fact that there can be Mormons who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a pretty good indication that both terms remain necessary.

  15. “Will McAdams be able to hold on to the Mormon vote in the Trump era, but not beyond?”
    His seat is one that has been held by Democrats in recent years and before Trump was on the political scene. It will always be a contested seat considering the demographics. It will be particularly interesting to see how things play out in 2020.

  16. Hard to talk about McAdams without talking about the redistricting initiative that passed last month. That’ll significantly affect McAdam’s district potentially making it much safer for him. That said the place of Romney, as the article hinted, may play a lot into all of this. I think that Love faced a problematic balancing act between what’s clearly her views and not alienating conservative Trump fans. But then she also faced backlash to Trump by many Republicans. Throw in that in many ways she wasn’t a good politician in terms of the traditional political game and it’s not surprising she had a tough time. Without knowing who the GOP puts up against McAdams nor what new districts may be like it’s hard to say too much. Plus in most years incumbency matters. Look how long Bill Orton represented Utah county and region in the 90’s despite that being such a very conservative locale.

  17. When I left Utah 45 years ago there was a Democrat as governor (Cal Rampton) and Democrat senator (Frank Moss) and a Democrat representative (Gunn McKay). When I returned a few years ago there were no Democrats in those offices.

  18. DD: “Members” is a term as bereft of Christ as “Mormons” and likely also results in an equal amount of joy in Satanville. Hmm… Deseret makes no reference, direct or indirect of the Savior. What kind of Godless heathen would use such a word?

  19. Jack Hughes says:

    The trend is indicating that a political candidate’s religion is less relevant than it used to be, and I welcome that. Most of the old establishment Mormon republican politicians (Hatch, Lee, Herbert, Crapo, Romney to some extent) propelled themselves into office by trumpeting their Mormon bona fides and prostituting themselves before LDS voters. Or like when Jon Huntsman Jr., who had been inactive for years, had a “miraculous” reactivation just prior to running for UT governor. During their times in office though, each of these men sold off their integrity, piece by piece, so many voters (especially younger voters) tend to view them as pious hypocrites. Meanwhile, Ben McAdams didn’t make his faith a campaign issue at all. If he turns out to be a good representative, most millennial voters won’t care whether or not he has a current temple recommend. Same goes with Kyrsten Sinema, who is an ethnic Mormon (raised in the LDS faith, BYU educated, but no longer a member) who likewise refused to make a big deal about her faith background. Jacinda Ardern in NZ also falls into this category. I hope these individuals are foretelling of the next generation of Mormon politicians.

  20. I’ve started ignoring posts elsewhere that try to name-shame COJCLDS adherents. It’s a no-win battle.

  21. Mark Brown says:

    Last week I realized that the church members whose voting preferences I know vote predictably, based on ethnicity. Asian-Americans and African-Americans in the church are very reliable blue voters, and white people tend to be more conservative. A friend who is a political scientist explained that an our voting behavior can be predicted with a very high degree of accuracy, based on certain factors: where we live, years of education, marital status, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and so on.

    I thought of this again as I read the pdf in this post. The demographic shifts it outlined make it clear that our political behavior is following larger trends. We might want to think that our voting choices reflect our beliefs, but maybe the real story here is *how little* our religion influences our political behavior, compared to other factors.

  22. Mark, I think things are a bit more complex. Partially because racial categories are too broad. Up until recently for instance Indian Americans and neighboring areas were reliably conservative. Likewise Cuban Americans are the exception to the stereotype of latinos. But of course within Texas there are lots of Mexican American conservatives. Put an other way, while I think there’s something to what you say I also think it’s overly reductive and elements are primarily due to Trump.

    Right now because of Trump things are a bit ugly. But it’s not clear how long that will last. People thought Nixon would damage the GOP for ages. Yet less that 8 years later Ronald Reagan was President and shifted everything the other direction. Trends change and the accidents of history have a large impact even if underlying stresses and tensions do as well. Had Trump not run, what would the GOP be right now? For that matter if the more moderate lane in the primaries (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich) been less crowded, would Trump have done as well? Had Obama not convinced Biden not to run against Clinton, I suspect Biden would have won given the investigations against Clinton, and almost certainly beat Trump. Accidents of history affect the breakdown of politics and correspondingly the breakdowns by background including cultural background and religion. What would Mormon Utah have done if the choice was between Trump and Biden, for instance?

    We’ll never know how such counterfactuals would turn out, but I think it suggests we should be careful pointing to anything essentialist about political choice. Even within either party there are many coalitions. Any individual voter, even acknowledging feedback from group identities, often views policies in complex heterogenus ways.

  23. Mark Brown says:

    I don’t disagree, Clark. My point is that, given the demographic composition of what sociologists call the Mormon Cultural Region, we are probably overvaluing religion as a motivator of political behavior.

    Look at it this way. 70% of white evangelicals are conservative. 70% of black evangelicals are liberal. That pattern cannot be attributed to Trump because it was in place before he came on the scene. There are obviously many factors in play, but it is clear that religiosity lands pretty far down the list of influences.

  24. I suspect religion is overvalued as a motivator, but I also again think issues are complex. Religion likely plays a big role on what policies are seen as significant. So to your point about black and white evangelicals, it’s worth noting that both see abortion as wrong at about the same rate. More than likely what’s going on is that blacks, with some justification, see the GOP as not concerned enough with discrimination. That then dwarfs the religious elements. If you control for that one issue I suspect blacks and whites would be pretty similar.

    Trump is a bit more tricky since in 2016 according to exit polls he actually managed to get more latino vote than Romney did. Whether that’s due to problems with exit polls or something else isn’t clear.

    Anyway I’d say religion is a big motivator it’s just that it’s not the only motivator.

  25. Geoff - Aus says:

    The original article/research points out that the church’s anti gay marriage activity has made it impossible to get members elected outside the mormon corridor. That may be my interpretation.
    It also points out that none of the new representatives are women.
    In Australia members with Utah Republican views are being recruited by the hard right, but the influence of the hard right is making the conservative party unelectable.
    This is an indication that the church policy on homophobia and sexism are quickly becoming unacceptable and will have to change. Imagine how many members would get elected if we were still practicing polygamy, and racism.

  26. Aussie Mormon says:

    “In Australia members with Utah Republican views are being recruited by the hard right, but the influence of the hard right is making the conservative party unelectable.”

    This is a the problem with the structure of our two major parties. Both are to the right of centre [1]. The right of our left party, and the left of our right party could happily co-exist if they were in a separate party.

    “This is an indication that the church policy on homophobia and sexism are quickly becoming unacceptable and will have to change.”
    Only if the goal is more Mormons in government. The problem with using political electability to determine morals and ethics, is that you then just end up with mob rule as to what is ethical (and there are a lot of non-members in Utah that would probably have some things to say about this).


  27. Geoff - Aus says:

    Probably right about the parties overlapping in centre.
    If only mormons will vote for mormon politicians, whereas there were members voted in where others had to vote for them in the past.
    Remember when we used to say the church would roll forth and fill the earth. Not when we are seen as hard right bigots. Not only won’t people vote for us they won’t join us either.

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