Ben Carson’s Islamophobia Could Cost His Mormon Support

Ben Carson’s Islamophobia Could Cost His Mormon Support September 22, 2015
Ben Carson, photo by Gage Skidmore; Wikimedia Commons
Ben Carson, photo by Gage Skidmore; Wikimedia Commons

The 2016 Republican nomination is turning into quite a spectacle, even when we’re not talking about Donald Trump. True, the Donald’s ridiculous xenophobia has set the tone for the race, but he’s not alone in sharing some outrageously racist opinions.

Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign has been trudging along steadily. Recently, Carson topped the polls among Utah Republicans. Though his biggest news moment came this weekend when he expressed doubt in whether a Muslim would qualify for President. Carson was asked whether a presidential candidate’s faith mattered. His response:

“I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

That’s a strange statement, but mostly one that is wholly inconsistent with the Constitution. But it could also jeopardize his support among Mormon Republicans. If there is any takeaway from the Church’s religious liberty campaign launched a few years ago, it’s that Mormons are particularly sensitive to religious discrimination. Mormons and Muslims have a bit more in common in American society as well—a 2014 Pew poll found them among the least liked Religious groups in America, along with atheists. Even more telling, according to David Campbell and Robert Putnam’s exhaustive research on American religiosity, Mormons are the most likely among any religious group to feel warmly toward Muslims*. Given this background, it will be interesting to see how Carson’s statement alters his popularity in Utah, and among LDS conservatives in general.

Even former GOP nominee Mitt Romney has already criticized Carson’s statement, tweeting that “every faith adds to our national character.”

Either way, Carson’s statement adds to a nasty trend among Republicans. Donald Trump isn’t the only problem—Islamophobia and xenophobia are serious dangers within the GOP, and the struggle during this primary isn’t so grand as finding a great potential leader, it’s merely winnowing down the pool to the least destructive candidate possible. If the Republican party wants to convince Americans living in a pluralistic, 21st century society that they represent everyone’s best interest, they’ll have to do a lot better than this.

If Carson’s opinions on Islam do reflect poorly among Mormon voters, the question then becomes, which candidate will they turn to in 2016? Well, we have a few guesses.


* Campbell & Putnam, American Grace, pg 508. Kudos to Jeremy John for finding the reference; my copy of American Grace is on the other side of the country.

 

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