"I was struck by the degree to which Mormons, on one hand, feel misunderstood in American society and discriminated against," said Greg Smith, chief PEW researcher on this project. "On the other hand, most Mormons told us the acceptance of Mormonism was on the rise."
Overall, 86 percent of LDS voters give positive marks to Romney, fresh from back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire GOP presidential contests, compared with 50 percent for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a fellow Mormon, 42 percent for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 25 percent for President Barack Obama and 22 percent for Reid.
Clinton and Obama scored well among Mormon Democrats, earning favorable ratings of 89 percent and 78 percent, respectively. But those two Democrats have won over very few Mormon Republicans. In fact, nearly 90 percent of them view the president unfavorably.
That's not unexpected, given the right-leaning politics of most Latter-day Saints. The poll shows 66 percent call themselves conservative while only 8 percent say they are liberal. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) identify with or lean toward Republicans while 17 percent side with Democrats. Another 75 percent of Mormons would prefer smaller government and fewer services while fewer than half of all Americans share that view. And support for the tea party is higher among Latter-day Saints than among the public as a whole.
The survey, conducted Oct. 25 to Nov. 16 with 1,019 self-identified Mormons, has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
LDS Democrats likely see Romney as "a seminal figure for Mormonism in general, partisan politics aside," said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame and a Mormon who advised Pew on the poll. "He is a pathmaker for Mormons just like Obama was for blacks and Kennedy was for Catholics."
Romney has represented Mormons "reasonably well," said Brigham Young University political scientist Quin Monson. "Plus, he's not extremely conservative, and Mormon Democrats at least in Utah are probably more conservative than Democrats overall."
The poll also reveals that, unlike the rest of the nation, Mormons between ages 18 and 50 are even more Republican than those over 50.
"I've seen this with my students," said BYU sociologist Marie Cornwall, another Pew adviser. "They are far more conservative than [students were] 10 to 15 years ago."
That may be because older Mormons had a more diverse political experience, with men such as Democrat Hugh B. Brown in the LDS First Presidency, according to Campbell. Today's young people have grown up in a Mormon world that is "almost monolithically Republican."
That's a cautionary vision for the Mormon future, Monson said. The fear that the faith will become completely aligned with the Republican Party "has the potential to be exacerbated when this older generation dies off."
"It's not healthy to be a one-party church," Monson added. "[LDS] leaders have said as much."
The poll shows that only 10 percent of LDS respondents view the Republican Party as unfriendly toward Mormonism, while 30 percent see the Democratic Party that way.
"It shows we have our work cut out for us," Utah Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis said. "It's not really an LDS problem but a Democratic Party problem."
Dabakis hopes that Utah Democrats will be able to convince Mormons that "our values, our ideas and our disposition are a lot more analogous to the LDS Church than the extremists who have taken over the Republican Party."
Democrats have to do "a much better job of explaining what Democrats really stand for," he said. "When we do, we win."
Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said Latter-day Saints may opt for his party because of its policies.
"Many of the values and beliefs and focuses of the Mormon faith are reflected in the Republican Party platform," he said. "But there's no one right party for anyone; everyone should be able to choose."
In the Pew poll, 56 percent of LDS voters say the nation is ready to elect a Mormon president. A recent Salt Lake Tribune national survey of all voters showed 60 percent would be comfortable casting a ballot for an LDS commander in chief.
The Tribune poll also painted polygamy as the biggest negative that Americans associate with the faith even though the Utah-based church abandoned the practice more than a century ago. But the Pew survey discovered that Mormons are more concerned that their faith is seen as non-Christian or as a cult.
Virtually all LDS respondents (97 percent) in the Pew poll see their church as Christian. Barely half (52 percent) in the Tribune survey considered Mormons to be Christian.
email@example.com Other Mormon findings
P The Tribune's Faith section will include more results from Pew's "Mormons in America" poll.
Other Mormon findings
54 percent say TV and film portrayals of Mormons hurt their image.
52 percent say news coverage of Mormonism is fair.
46 percent say there is a lot of anti-Mormon discrimination.
45 percent say immigrants strengthen the country, while 41 percent say immigrants burden the nation.
26 percent say homosexuality should be accepted, compared with 58 percent who feel that way among the general public.
82 percent say religion is "very important" in their lives, compared with 56 percent among the general public.
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life