— PewResearch Religion (@PewReligion) July 17, 2014
From the Pew Research Center report:
Atheists, Jews and Mormons each make up roughly 2% of the U.S. population, but a majority of Americans say they know someone who is Jewish (61%) or atheist (59%), while significantly fewer know a Mormon (44%).
One possible explanation may be that the geographic distribution of a group matters as much as its size. A higher percentage of the population in the West – where Mormons and Buddhists are heavily concentrated – know a Mormon (68%) or a Buddhist (36%). Fully 70% of people in the Northeast know someone who is Jewish; not coincidentally, 43% of U.S. Jews live in the Northeast.
I think this can be best understood when considered along with this map:
The above map shows the largest religion in each county in the United States of America. The religions indicated are not necessarily the majority religion in a given county (though they might be in some cases). Instead, the he religions indicated are the single largest religion in that county.
This map gives us one of the most accurate representation of what I would call the Mormon Belt.
While Mormons are sprinkled all over the United States, and the world, they are most heavily concentrated in the American West. I think the Pew findings also reflect the higher profile of the LDS Church and Mormons in the American West. Growing up on the East Coast of the United States, I found that the terms “Mormon” or “LDS” were not as familiar to people as they are in the West. This may have changed somewhat after Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
The Pew Research Center also conducted a “feeling thermometer.” They asked respondents to rate specific religious groups on a 0 to 100 scale with a higher number indicating a “warmer, more positive feeling toward that group.”
This is how Pew reported their findings from that question:
Americans who know a member of a group tend to rate that group more positively. For example, among those who know an atheist, the average rating of atheists is 50; among those who don’t know an atheist, it’s 29. And among those who know a Buddhist, the average rating of Buddhists is 70. The comparable rating by those who don’t know a Buddhist is 48.
Overall, Americans express the warmest feelings toward Jews (average rating of 63), Catholics (62) and evangelical Christians (61). They are coolest toward atheists (41) and Muslims (40). Buddhists (53), Hindus (50) and Mormons (48) are in the middle.
The study also found that Republicans have warmer feelings for Mormons than Democrats…but not by much with both groups showing relatively neutral attitudes towards Mormons. Republicans, on average, rated Mormon at a 52 on the 0 to 100 scale. Democrats, on average, rated Mormons at a 44.
In the many conversations I have had over the years about Mormons and politics, I think that many people make rather drastic assumptions about how other groups view Mormons. For the most part, I do not think that most people think all that much about Mormons, one way or another. This is easy for me to forget because I am not only a Mormon, but I spend considerable time writing about Mormons and Mormonism.
I am left wondering a number of questions after reviewing these questions. How has the “I am a Mormon” ad campaign impacted overall attitudes and familiarity about Mormons? How about Prop. 8 in California? Mitt Romney’s presidential run? Or do these more public moments only serve to reinforce previously held views or ambivalence?
Feel free to take a shot at these questions in the comments below.