Why Utah’s Mormons waffle on this year’s GOP candidate

Trump sparks a conflict between morality and political belief.

 

Visitors walk by the Latter-day Saints Temple in Salt Lake City. Donald Trump’s morals and policy positions have led some Mormons, who typically vote Republican, to rethink their party vote for this election.
Kim Raff

When Donald Trump was named the Republican presidential nominee, Calene Van Noy, a 42-year-old member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said she felt a sense of horror. In every other presidential race she’d been eligible to vote in, she’d supported the GOP, and for a second, she entertained the possibility of doing so again. But then she remembered what Trump had said about immigrants, Muslims and Syrian refugees, and Van Noy knew that this year would be different.

Many of Van Noy’s Mormon neighbors, motivated in part by their faith’s not-too-distant history of persecution, believe in helping refugees. “They are amazing,” she says of refugees. “They’re the sort of people we want in America.”

Mormons are normally among the West’s most reliable Republican voters, but not this year. In Utah, where two-thirds of eligible voters are members of the Mormon Church, the latest polls show Trump just 15 points ahead of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton — 39 percent to 24 percent. The contrast with past elections is striking: In the last three presidential contests, Republican candidates won between 63 and 73 percent of the Utah vote.

Trump’s dismal support among Mormons has turned Utah into a swing state for the first time since 1964, as LDS voters find themselves torn between their political and ethical beliefs. As Trump himself put it to a group of evangelical leaders at an August event in Orlando: “We’re having a tremendous problem in Utah.”

Trump’s Utah problem is fairly easy to explain. “He’s rude, insulting, racist, misogynist, arrogant, flippant, ill-informed, and, more than anything, is completely self-obsessed,” says Sven Wilson, a longtime Republican and former Utah GOP state delegate. “Mormons strive to be a highly moral people, and Trump is a morally hideous man — and proud of it.”

For the Mormon Church, Trump crossed a line last December. His call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. was a disturbing echo of Secretary of State William Evarts’ attempt in 1879 — under President Rutherford B. Hayes — to limit Mormon immigration to the United States. After Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, the church issued a statement: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in regard to party politics and election campaigns. However, it is not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”

Still, voting decisions among Mormons are less clear-cut. Polls show that 56 percent of Utah’s Mormons dislike Trump, but even more are turned off by Clinton, with 84 percent giving her an unfavorable rating in one recent poll.

Clinton will have a tough time capitalizing on Trump’s weakness in Utah. “A lot of Mormons will still vote for Trump,” says Wilson, “but most will do so holding their noses.”

Steve Densley, a Salt Lake City-based attorney and registered Republican, calls Trump a “vulgar, devious swine,” but he says he will vote for him nevertheless. Since none of the third-party candidates have a hope of winning the general election, voting for an independent, in Densley’s view, is like voting for Clinton, which he says he could never do: “We can’t always count on Trump to act like a conservative, but we can count on Hillary to act like a liberal.”

Densley’s confidence that Trump is more likely to appoint conservatives to federal office was bolstered by the GOP nominee’s choice of Mike Pence as a running mate and by Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees, which includes Utah Justice Thomas Lee, a popular conservative candidate among many -Mormons.

Trump has also won support among some of Utah’s political elite, including Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund and Robert Oakes, a former general authority of the LDS Church. Like Densley, they believe that Trump would fill government positions with people who reflect conservative values, such as strengthening national defense, protecting religious liberties, and promoting family values.

After disavowing Trump, Van Noy contemplated voting for Clinton. But when she pictured herself at the polls, she decided she could not do it — not with Clinton being a Democrat. In addition, Van Noy feels that Clinton shares some of Trump’s flaws, including the sense of “being above the law.” Instead, she plans on voting for independent candidate Evan McMullin, a Utah native and a Mormon, who is positioning himself as an alternative to Trump. 

A strong showing for McMullin in Utah would be good news for Clinton, says Jeremy Pope, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. Even if McMullin does well only in the Beehive State, it would be a bad sign for the GOP, since the chances of Trump winning the presidency without Utah are slim.

Van Noy has reluctantly reconciled herself to that outcome. “At least with Clinton, we know what kind of mess we’d get,” she says. “With Trump, who knows what kind of chaos he would unleash? It’s scary for America and for the world.”  

Correspondent Sarah Tory writes from Paonia, Colorado.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...