Saturday, June 11, 2016

Mormon Voters Really Don’t Like Donald Trump — Here’s Why

Speaking before one of his smallest crowds this campaign season, Donald Trump declared Friday night at a rally in Salt Lake City that he loves the Mormons.

The feeling does not appear to be mutual.

Trump suffered one of his most decisive defeats of the year Tuesday in the Mormon mecca of Utah, where Republican caucusgoers voted overwhelmingly against him. Ted Cruz received 69% of the vote in the state, followed by John Kasich at just under 17%, and Trump in last place, at 14%.

The drubbing shouldn't come as a surprise. So far in 2016, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have proven to be one of the most stubbornly anti-Trump constituencies in the Republican Party.

National polling data focused on Mormon voters is hard to come by, but the election results speak for themselves. Even as Trump has steamrollered his way through the GOP primaries, he has repeatedly been trounced in places with large LDS populations.

In Wyoming, the third-most-heavily Mormon state in the country, Trump was able to muster just 70 votes in the low-turnout Republican caucuses there — losing to Ted Cruz by a whopping 59 points.

In Idaho, the country's second most Mormon state, Trump lost the primary by 18 points.

The pattern holds at the county level as well. As New York Times data journalist Nate Cohn illustrated, the larger the proportion of Mormons in a given county, the worse Trump has generally performed in the primary contest there.

This dynamic was perhaps most vividly demonstrated earlier this month in the deeply conservative Madison County — home to Brigham Young University–Idaho and a population that's estimated to be upward of 95% Mormon. Cruz won the county with 57% of the vote; Rubio came in second with 27%. Trump won a total of 539 votes — less than 8% of the county electorate, and just barely enough to squeak by fourth-place Kasich.

Some are pointing to Mitt Romney, who has spent recent weeks on a high-profile crusade to stop the billionaire, to explain this phenomenon. But LDS voters' skepticism of the billionaire — which, polls suggest, predates Romney's emergence as an anti-Trump champion — is rooted more deeply in Mormon culture and politics.

That's because while Mormons make up the most reliably Republican religious group in the country, they differ from the party's base in key ways that work against Trump.

On immigration, for example, the hard-line proposals that have rallied Trump's fans — like building a massive wall along the country's southern border to keep immigrants out — are considerably less likely to fire up conservative Latter-day Saints. The LDS church has spent years lobbying for "compassionate" immigration reform. In 2011, church leaders offered a full-throated endorsement of "the Utah Compact," a state legislative initiative that discouraged deporting otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants and offered a path to residency for families that would be separated by deportation.

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