A Mormon ticket

I love it when reporters look for religion angles in political stories, I really do. Sometimes, though, a reporter tries too hard to see a faith angle. Consider Joshua Green’s post for The Atlantic on Jon Huntsman’s new website, www.Jon2012.com, and whether it has any biblical implications, referring to the New Testament passage John 20:12.

Okay, so it’s the resurrection. But I was at loss to see any deeper meaning in it.

Serendipitously, my father is a theologian. I put in a call to him. “I’m assuming that’s intentional, because otherwise it’s an odd thing to call your website,” he said. “The passage is the part of the description of the empty tomb. I believe the two angels only appear in the Book of John.” And?

He didn’t have an and. “A politician would want to associate himself with Jesus Christ, I suppose,” he said. “But the passage isn’t theologically weighted.”

Or maybe it’s because www.huntsman2012.com is already taken, I don’t know. To be fair, Green doesn’t take his theory terribly seriously.

So unlike my dad, I doubt the biblical allusion is intentional. Rather, I think it reflects his big gripe about religion in politics–and also about religion in the media–which is that political consultants, like reporters, are so ignorant of religion that the allusion probably would not even have occurred to them.

Again, I think it simply comes down to someone named Jon (not John) is running for president in 2012. It is interesting that the only mention of his faith on his site is in the timeline referring to his Mormon mission in 1979. But I haven’t looked at the other candidates’ site thoroughly to know whether a dearth of personal faith mention is actually terribly unusual. It certainly isn’t highlighted on Mitt Romney’s website.

We’ve talked before about stories that look at the differences between Huntsman and Romney’s faith, and I think they are helpful. CNN’s Dan Gilgoff has another one that helps remind readers that all Mormons are not alike.

It will be interesting how their respective faith communities receive them, which this Washington Post story examines in an interesting piece on fundraising within the Mormon community.

In Utah, Romney is trying to lure back his old donors. But he is also competing against Huntsman to sign up bundlers — supporters who help bring in donations from their friends and colleagues.

Several knowledgeable Utah Republicans said Romney has won over many of the community’s biggest donors. But at least half a dozen prominent business leaders who gave to Romney in 2008, including Zions Bank Chairman A. Scott Anderson, will hold a breakfast fundraiser on Friday for Huntsman. Each is giving his campaign $2,500, according to an invitation obtained by The Post.

University of Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell, who is Mormon, said many in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider a donation to Romney or Huntsman a sort of down payment on the prospect that they could help bring the faith into the cultural mainstream.

“I think that 2012 will be remembered as a pretty important year for Mormons,” Campbell said, adding that Romney or Huntsman could “become the JFK of Mormons and put the religion question to rest.”

Several stories, like this other Washington Post piece, that focus on Huntsman and Romney’s faith are quick to point that a Mormon candidate could have trouble among evangelical voters. However, if you look closely at some recent polls, you’ll see that Democrats also report reluctance to vote for a Mormon candidate.

Pew, for instance, finds that while 34 percent of evangelicals said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate, 41 percent of liberal Democrats said the same thing. Similarly, a Los Angeles Times poll showed that 27 percent of Democrats said they would oppose a Mormon candidate, compared to 18 percent of Republicans who said the same thing. Perhaps reporters could explore why that might be the case. Is it simply because they believe the only Mormon candidates they know who might run for president are Republican? Would Sen. Harry Reid’s faith be a key issue for his own party if he ran? Yes, the Iowa primary comes first, but the Democratic reluctance could be an interesting story to explore down the road.

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  • Matt

    Pew, for instance, finds that while 34 percent of evangelicals said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate, 41 percent of liberal Democrats said the same thing. Similarly, a Los Angeles Times poll showed that 27 percent of Democrats said they would oppose a Mormon candidate, compared to 18 percent of Republicans who said the same thing.

    Neither poll appears to have asked whether the same people would vote for an evangelical. That would seem the obvious control to distinguish between theological bias and political alignment.

    I would expect the opposition among Democrats has much more to do with bitterness over the Proposition 8 campaign, but the LAT launches right into talking about “prejudice against Mormons” without considering any alternative hypotheses.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Matt,
    Even though it didn’t highlight that in the survey, I wonder if Pew did ask those questions. In the pdf, it says

    About a third of white evangelical Protestants (34%) say they would less likely to support a Mormon candidate, compared
    with 24% of the religiously unaffiliated, and just 19% of white mainline Protestants and about the same percentage of white Catholics (16%).

    So I wonder if they do have the numbers but they didn’t see them as significant? I’m not totally sure. But it looks like they did compare religious groups (not sure about the evangelical question, though).

    That’s an interesting theory about Prop 8, though do you think it’d be nation-wide? Thanks for more ideas.

  • Jettboy

    There is another angle that seems to be missing from news reports; at least any that I have seen. How supportive are Mormons as a whole of Romney and Huntsman this time around? There is not doubt that the support will be high, but I doubt David Campbel’s assertions that, “many in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider a donation to Romney or Huntsman a sort of down payment on the prospect that they could help bring the faith into the cultural mainstream.”

    Lets not forget that the Tea Party is strong in the Republican grassroots culture this time around, and conservative Mormons belong in large part to this movement. I have heard from many Mormon Republicans that they are proud of Mitt and even Huntsman running, but they will not support them in the primary. Obamneycare is just as much considered a deal breaking disadvantage among conservative Mormons as anyone else, and Huntsman is not trusted on the national stage. He might have had large support as a governor of Utah, but that is doesn’t translate for Presidential concerns.

  • Harold

    While the Pew data on Democrats is interesting, it likely has less to do with religion and more to do with politics. OTOH, the Evangelical opposition to Mormons likely has to do with religion, not politics.

    The Evangelical question is getting press attention because of the disproportionate sway they have in Republican primaries. If they say they won’t vote for a Mormon, they aren’t doing it because the candidate isn’t pro-life enough but because they don’t like the candidate’s religion. That’s a different issue than Democrat’s opposition, which probably isn’t as religion-driven but instead politically driven.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I’d make a drinking game out of how many times we hear the JFK comparison before the primary is over, but since it’s Mormons, I’d have to use decaf pop or juice.

    What does Green mean, his father is a theologian? What kind? If he’s Catholic, then to call oneself a theologian requires a licentiate from the Church, but if he’s Protestant or Jewish, is there a definition? Or is he a theologian the way I’m a historian: likes reading and talking about it but has no particular credentials?

  • Tracy Hall Jr

    When it was reported that Huntsman considered his relationship to his religion to be “tough to define,” I reacted just like Orson Scott Card. (Card, a Democrat, doesn’t mention him by name.)

    “If a member has lost his faith, but still has respect for the church and its believing members, what would it cost him to say so? Far less, I think, than to try to have it both ways.”

    Come on, Brother Jon, give us another sound bite. May I suggest, “OK, I’m a MINO. But I’m not RINO!”

    Tracy Hall Jr
    hthalljr’gmail’com

  • Tracy Hall Jr
  • Matt

    Sarah, I don’t see your quote as indicating that they asked people whether they would vote for a candidate of specific religions other than Mormonism. I think the references to evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics indicates people being polled, not candidates they were asked about.

    Yes, I think the Prop 8 episode raised the profile of Mormons as political conservatives nationwide. I sure heard enough about it here in the liberal Northeast.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    You’re right – I was thinking about an earlier survey that did give a breakdown between religions: here’s one link I found http://pewresearch.org/pubs/648/romney-mormon

  • Matt

    Sarah, that’s an interesting poll, showing that Mormons have higher negative ratings than evangelicals. However, it sadly does not include any breakdown of the political or religious characteristics of the people being asked. Also, it is pre-Prop 8.

    Here is a chilling story (that I was put onto by Tracy Hall’s essay by Card) about persecution of a Mormon by liberals, just last month, and specifically about Prop 8. I don’t think people have forgotten or forgiven.

  • bob

    I dare any pollster to ask questions about what people actually know about Mormon beliefs. The chances are excellent that they think they’re another flavor of protestant. Further I’d like to see someone find statements made by former presidents (for ease just the last century) that would show they believed anything more or less than a Mormon or could be shown to disagree with them. Ignorance is very deep in the voting public and depth is never, ever expected (or tolerated!) in a politician. Least of all in the president.

  • http://www.moneyteachers.org/Rothschilds+Gift+to+Mormons.htm Craig

    Are the mormon leaders buying their way to heaven?


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