“Why did so many Latter-day Saints vote for Trump?”

By Rob Taber, National Director of Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris

“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” -Doctrine and Covenants 58:28

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” -William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Why did so many Latter-day Saints vote for Trump? It’s a question that has been in our inboxes, in our comments, on social media pages of friends ever since the AP released the Votecast survey showing 71% of the people who identified as “Mormon” voted to re-elect President Trump and 24% supported former Vice President Joe Biden.

The question that accompanies it, spoken or unspoken, is steeped in angst: How could my child’s Primary teacher, my Elder’s Quorum President, my dear neighbor vote for a man who has done…, who has said…, who threatens…

There’s no one answer. Historical voting patterns suggest that men, people of English and German heritage, people who live in the interior west, and people who work in particular sectors of the economy are more likely to vote Republican. There’s some research into how “Mormon” has functioned as a political identity, particularly since the 1970s, pushing people to a certain view of various hot-button issues regarding healthcare, aid to families in need, support for cities, concern for the natural world, and racial inclusion. There are also socialization questions, meaning who people work with, their own experience with diversity and authority, and even where they live can influence their voting pattern. I heard a research presentation this summer that outlined that if someone who voted for President Trump in 2016 watched at least one major news channel (CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, CNN) it was much easier to persuade them than if they only consumed Fox News and outlets further to the right. A Deseret News columnist is already claiming it’s because the Democratic Party moved so far to the left by nominating [checks notes] Joe Biden.

I find these answers interesting, and sometimes useful, but ultimately unsatisfying because of the way they skirt or ignore agency.

Historians talk a lot about the agency of individuals, the way individual choices become larger than the sum of their parts through mass movements and the arc of one’s own life. Whose decision is it to watch only Fox News, to read only Breitbart and The Blaze, to traffick in sexist memes and morbid conspiracy theories, to live in constant fear of the “world”? For me, 1 John 2:16 and Mosiah 3:19 are reminders to reject anger, materialism, and the false allures of the “prosperity gospel” and groupthink, not reasons to ignore Matthew 25, Luke 10, Mosiah 18, Matthew 5, and Doctrine and Covenants 88:118. “Enduring to the end” involves checking our biases, gaining fresh insight “about God, about oneself, and about the world.”

And I know fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ will come away with different conclusions about how to apply these chapters and verses to how we live our lives and make our public policy and political decisions. And that’s okay, as long as we respect one another’s agency.

We receive a lot of messages in the campaign inboxes. They tend to fall into four categories:

  1. “I’m so glad to have found you, I no longer feel so alone.”
  2. “Why are you using ‘Latter-day Saint’ on your political page?”
  3. “Why do you think this group is even needed? Of course members will disagree on politics. My ward has people of every perspective.”
  4. How dare you go against the teachings of the Church! Don’t you know all Democrats are $%^$#@!”

Ten years ago, Natalie at ByCommonConsent identified a tendency in U.S. church culture to acquiesce to the most conservative approach. She recognizes that there are times when such acquiescence is appropriate, such as youth activities, but for me that acquiescence becomes dangerous when it becomes silence “at all times and in all places.” We can make a case for the validity of our political approach, do so in a way that respects our fellow members and the Church and Gospel we cherish, and provide a community of refuge and action for creating the kind of society we long to see.

Or as Sam Cooke put it many years ago:

So we keep making our case. We feel less alone knowing that one-in-four of our fellow Latter-day Saints voted for Joe Biden, who we consider to be a man of faith, someone who values our values and wants to unify our nation. (He will also be better for the economy, especially if we win the run-offs in Georgia in January.)

We also feel less alone knowing that we weren’t the only Latter-day Saints making the case. Rosemary Card, Gabrielle Blair, Evan McMullin, Frank Fox and dozens and hundreds of others used their individual platforms to “let their light shine.” Latter-day Saints in Arizona created Arizona Republicans Who Believe in Treating Others with Respect. Latter-day Saint women created Women of Faith Speak Up and Speak Out. The Trump campaign had to pull out all the stops to keep Joe Biden’s vote share among Latter-day Saints to twice what Al Gore received in 2000. Even then, the percentage of Latter-day Saints voting for the Democratic nominee appears to have doubled in Arizona compared to four years ago, probably a pivotal shift. Joe Biden is on track to have the best showing of a Democratic nominee in Utah since 1964, including flipping precincts in Utah County for the first time. While the past is “not even past,” as Faulkner put it, the future is constantly being written. And we’re not putting down our pens anytime soon.

History teaches us patience with ambiguity, to consider many perspectives and sides, to allow new information to shape our worldview. Or, as the 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, best known for the “Serenity Prayer,” put it in his Irony of American History:

There are no simple congruities in life or history. The cult of happiness erroneously assumes them. It is possible to soften the incongruities of life endlessly by the scientific conquest of nature’s caprices, and the social and political triumph over historic injustice. But all such strategies cannot finally overcome the fragmentary character of human existence. The final wisdom of life requires, not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it…

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; there we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; there we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Onward.

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