A couple of weeks ago my bumper sticker arrived, the one I had to special order. “I’m voting for Obama,” it proclaimed, “…and I’m a Mormon.”
In the last year, the LDS Church’s popular “I’m a Mormon” ads have created a brand with Mormons identifying themselves in an unexpected way (e.g., “I’m a drummer in a rock band!” or “I’m a competitive motorcyclist!”) and then following it up with the tagline, “and I’m a Mormon.”
But in my case, a different conjunction is in order. “And” is not enough. I’m voting for Obama because I am a Mormon.
I’m not alone in this, though as a Mormon Democrat I am a minority within a minority. There are more of us than people assume, even though in the current election, with a fellow Latter-day Saint running for president, approximately 84 percent of Mormons say they’ll be voting for Mitt Romney. This is significantly higher than the 60-odd percent of Mormons who self-identified as Republican in the 2006 Faith Matters Survey.
It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, at one time Mormons swung very much in the other direction. In the 1896 presidential election, 51 percent of the nation’s popular vote went to Republican William McKinley, but in the spanking new state of Utah McKinley captured only an anemic showing of 17.3 percent. According to Notre Dame political scientist David E. Campbell, Mormons went heavily for populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan that year instead.
The Democratic trend continued. From 1932 to 1948, Mormons echoed national sentiments by repeatedly electing Democrats FDR and Harry Truman to office, often by a larger margin than the rest of the nation. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson carried Utah by ten percentage points, and throughout the 1970s the Utah state legislature was solidly Democratic. (And there is evidence from sociologist Armand Mauss that Mormons outside of Utah were more liberal than their Utah counterparts on political and social issues, so the Utah voting patterns are probably a bit more conservative than American Mormons more generally.)
So. What happened to my people?
The LDS Church is careful as an institution to remain politically neutral, so how did the vast majority of American Mormons veer so far to the right?
Since the 1970s, Mormons have increasingly allied themselves with Republicans in matters political, as if the GOP is, as the old joke goes, God’s own party. Utah has become so reliably Republican that neither major party even campaigns there in force for presidential politics. For Republicans, winning Utah is a fait accompli, so why spend time and money there? For Democrats, winning Utah is an outlandish fantasy, so why spend time and money there?
Most everybody loses in a single-party system, so I’m proud to stand in a long tradition of Mormons who have voted on the other side. But it isn’t just history that drives me to be a Mormon Democrat; it’s belief.
As a Mormon, it’s my job to ensure that the poor are cared for. I believe the Book of Mormon’s explicit claims that our standing with God rests upon how we treat the poor—not just as individuals, but as societies. (King Benjamin’s sermon is a case in point.) As a Mormon I am called to vote for candidates who won’t stomp on the poor.
Romney does not look promising on this score. In fact, he appears more concerned with lining the pockets of the rich. According to the Tax Policy Center (as reported in the October issue of Money magazine), people earning more than $500,000 a year will get an 10% increase in after-tax earnings under Romney’s plan.
As a Mormon, it’s my job to protect life. This means all life, whether it’s ending the war in Iraq (thank you, President Obama) or decreasing the number of actual abortions that occur in America (thank you, President Clinton).
Republicans talk a big game about outlawing abortion, all while implementing policies that effectively contribute to abortion’s tragic proliferation. They want to cut health care, including programs like WIC; make contraception less available to women; end sex education in schools; and have no federal subsidies for child care. Those are all policies that chip away at women’s non-abortion options, particularly since women who live below the poverty line are four times as likely to have an abortion as women who do not.
As a Mormon, it’s my job to be a good steward of the earth. For all that Romney belongs to the same church I do, he does not seem remotely concerned about our planet’s future. He has mocked forward-thinking attempts to invest in clean energy sources and raising the standards for gas mileage in new cars. He calls the EPA “a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system.” His views on the environment are short-sighted.
Let me say it again: I am voting for Obama because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it.