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When it comes to Utah politics, most local Mormon church leaders and members believe the faith should wield considerable influence, but say they think it holds less sway with lawmakers than the state's tourism industry, schoolteachers and constituents.
Active members ranked church clout with the state Legislature even below that of minorities and the news media.
These findings are included in a private, internal poll conducted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in spring 2014 that was posted Tuesday on the website MormonLeaks.
The survey asked Latter-day Saints about the perceived influence the Mormon church holds in Utah and how state lawmakers respond to various constituencies.
A third line of questioning asked members specifically about their awareness of LDS Church messaging on state liquor laws.
The majority of respondents (424) were active adult Mormons. The rest were identified as either bishops (244) or stake presidents (226).
According to the data, there is no question that a majority of faithful Mormons believe the church has or should have a strong influence over Utah politics.
Those feelings are strongest among those holding local lay leadership positions, all of which are held by men.
Eighty-seven percent of stake presidents (who oversee a number of congregations) and 76 percent of bishops (leaders of one ward, or congregation) said the church "should have a strong influence in the state of Utah," according to the poll. A smaller majority of active, adult church members 54 percent agreed.
Similar big majorities 87 percent of stake presidents, 73 percent of bishops and 71 percent of other members said the church was not too involved in Utah politics.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said he was surprised the church had surveyed its members about its political profile, but not surprised by the results. "If you are talking to stake presidents and bishops," said Burbank, "what do you think they are going to say?"
Business as usual • That the church is taking the temperature of its membership isn't unusual, retired Brigham Young University sociology professor Marie Cornwall added. The faith began conducting surveys in the mid-1970s and uses the information to identify where problems may exist, how members feel and what goals the institution might set, she said.
"Other religious organizations have had some sort of research arm like this long before the [Mormon] church did," Cornwall said. "If you really want to understand who the members are and how to respond to them, you collect data and you ask them questions."
The Salt Lake Tribune could not independently verify the veracity of the MormonLeaks post. In an email from its public affairs office Tuesday, the church declined to comment on the document or its authenticity. In March, the church threatened legal action against MormonLeaks, alleging the site had violated the law by publishing copyright materials.
The LDS Church officially is neutral in partisan matters and refrains from endorsing political candidates or parties. It does, however, engage in political activism at the state and national level on issues it deems as having "significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the church."
Historically, that has included working on campaigns to ban gay marriage and issuing public statements on immigration policy, gambling, pornography, abortion and Utah's alcohol laws.
The newly released Web-based survey, which, according to the documents, was undertaken by the church's Research Information Division, was conducted several months after the January 2014 release of a rare video in which a church apostle expressed the faith's strong opposition to any proposed changes in state liquor laws. In one question, a majority of stake presidents and members and a near-majority of bishops said they had never seen such a video, although it received widespread publicity coming as it did days before the opening of the annual legislative session.
In Utah, of course, the LDS Church may not always need to speak in order to be heard.
LDS legislators • A Tribune survey of lawmakers last December found that 88 percent 91 of 104 were Mormon. That is a significantly bigger proportion than in the Utah population at large, at an estimated 63 percent.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said at the time that, with so many Mormons in the Legislature, "it would be naive to say there isn't some kind of influence there."
But he said the influence is almost never overt or heavy-handed.
"I've never had the church or any of [its] lobbyists tell me how to vote. You don't feel that kind of pressure," Niederhauser, who is LDS, told the newspaper.
The internal polling data suggest local Mormon leaders and members don't believe the church holds a lot of sway on Utah's Capitol Hill.
In fact, majorities of both stake presidents and bishops ranked the church fourth on the list of six interest groups that influence lawmakers, behind Utah's hospitality and tourism industry, constituents and teachers. Members ranked the faith dead last behind minorities and news media in political clout.
Burbank suspects a survey of other constituencies would produce a similar response, in that most groups focus on what they don't get from the Legislature, not on what they do.
"If you talk to teachers, they say, 'the state Legislature ignores us, we never have any influence,' and they have some evidence for that," he said. "But the church is clearly not a typical interest group. It's not acting in the same way that the Chamber of Commerce does, where [it hires] a lobbyist and work to influence legislation."
The church works most often behind the scenes in the legislative process if it has to do anything at all, Burbank said. Lawmakers don't need the church to articulate its position on most issues, he notes. They already know.
Overall a majority 45 percent of stake presidents, 52 percent of bishops and 53 percent of other Mormons told pollsters that the church's influence with lawmakers has remained mostly stable over the past five years.
Still, about a third of stake presidents and bishops 32 percent and 36 percent, respectively said they thought the faith's influence had declined. Less than a quarter said it had increased.