A recent survey conducted by a BYU professor reflects other data showing Donald Trump may not win the majority vote of Latter-day Saints in November.
Sociology professor Jacob Rugh surveyed nearly 400 of his former students, all between the ages of 18 and 39, finding that only 22% of respondents said they would vote for Donald Trump, while 52% chose Joe Biden. The remaining 26% were undecided.
“While Utah is unlikely to go blue in the 2020 election, not a single young BYU-educated sub-group I surveyed (% for Trump) — not men (33%), not whites (23%), not older Millennials (26%), not even Republicans (49%) — evince majority support for Trump in 2020,” Rugh’s survey report stated.
This study, which consisted almost entirely of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, represents one end of a political gap between generations within the Church.
Jana Riess, author of “The Next Mormons: How Millennials are Changing the LDS Church,” reported in an article for Religion News Service that only 48% of Latter-day Saints ages 18-29 approve of President Trump, compared to 74% of Church members over 64.
According to Rugh, these generational differences are significant.
“Research shows that the effect of birth year via early vote choices during historic times like the presidencies of FDR or Reagan have long-lasting, often permanent, effects on vote choices for the rest of voters’ lives,” he wrote. “In short, it is safe to assume that some of the differences we see in Millennial/Gen Z vs. older BYU-educated, mostly LDS, voters may last a lifetime.”
The findings of Rugh’s survey reflect national data which also spell out anti-Trump trends among some members of certain demographics.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape survey showed 55% of Latter-day Saints approve of the way Donald Trump is handling his presidency. Though this is still in majority territory, support for Trump has been gradually waning among members of the Church.
In a blog article for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, research fellow Daniel Cox writes about political similarities between Latter-day Saints and white evangelical Protestants. Where the two groups’ voting patterns were nearly identical in the presidential elections of 2004, 2008 and 2012, with the majority of both groups voting for the Republican candidate, Latter-day Saints diverged sharply from the evangelicals in 2016. Trump garnered 81% of the evangelical vote that year, compared to just 61% of the Latter-day Saint vote, Cox said.
FiveThirtyEight’s average of national polls shows a more recent downward trend for Trump in another largely Latter-day Saint population. Trump’s lead over Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in Utah has shrunk from 19 percentage points in late February to 7.8 percentage points in early July, according to FiveThirtyEight’s data.
Though not all Utah residents are members of the Church, a Utah Policy Center poll indicates that non-members do not entirely account for the shrinking gap; the poll’s data showed four in 10 Utah Latter-day Saints disapprove of the president.
Cox told The Daily Universe that some possible reasons for Trump’s declining popularity among Latter-day Saints include his “divisive approach to politics,” “incendiary rhetoric” and his tendency to “demonize opponents.”
Cox also hypothesized that questionable elements of the president’s personal life, such as his alleged sexual misconduct, would deter family-oriented Latter-day Saint voters.
One particular Latter-day Saint subgroup has indicated disapproval for the president. Rugh’s findings that young, BYU-educated women have less favorable opinions of Trump match other studies on Latter-day Saint voters.
“Trump is underperforming among Republican Mormon women, who should be a reliable base for him, as they have been for past GOP presidents,” Riess wrote in an article for Religion News Service.
Riess corroborated the statement with data from recent studies by Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape and the Pew Research Center, showing Latter-day Saint women are much more likely to disapprove of Trump than Latter-day Saint men.
Referring to his own study, in which the men surveyed were almost three times as likely to support Trump than the women, Rugh called the gender divide “remarkable.”
Cox attributed this gender gap to Trump’s “caustic” projection of masculinity and “tough guy” persona.
“That’s kind of the image he projects, and again, while it plays well among some constituencies, particularly older white men and those without a college degree, it really repels a lot of women, including Mormon women,” Cox said.
Though the president has generally high approval ratings from members of his own party, some Republicans have broken the mold. Only 49% of Republicans surveyed by Rugh said they would vote for Trump in 2020. Of those surveyed who voted for Trump in 2016, only 61% indicated they would do so again.
Former BYU College Republicans president Madison Barr told The Atlantic in 2018 that the president’s rhetoric doesn’t align with what she considers to be true Republican values.
Other club members may have felt similarly, as “membership in the (BYU College Republicans) club dropped steadily throughout 2016, largely because people wanted to distance themselves from Trump,” The Atlantic reported.
Current BYU College Republicans president Samuel Crofts told The Daily Universe that he has also seen people become disenchanted with conservative politics as a result of the Trump presidency.
Even among those who remain affiliated with the party, Crofts said, there is a wide array of ideologies and viewpoints that fit within the blanket label of “Republican,” thus there are many different opinions of the president within the party.
These variances within the party are a good thing, according to Crofts, as they go against the hyper-partisan norm.
“I’m a big fan of forming your own (opinions) on lots of different policy issues, and I think you see that a lot at BYU,” he said. “There’s a lot of variety and a lot of different types of Republicans.”