Washington • While some prominent Mormons are among the more vocal critics of President Donald Trump, Latter-day Saints overall give the president the highest marks of any religious group, a new polling report shows.
An aggregation of the Gallup Daily Tracking poll last year shows that 61 percent of Mormons surveyed approve of Trump’s job as president, just above the 60 percent of white, non-Hispanic Protestants — mainline and evangelical — who back the president.
About half of all Protestants approve of Trump while 18 percent of Muslims give Trump good marks. The poll does not break down the evangelical support of Trump.
Though Mormon support is higher than other faiths, the poll shows that LDS followers may still harbor concerns about Trump.
“Actually the numbers are about 20 points lower than they should be,” said Quin Monson, associate professor of political science at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University.
Mormons have historically backed Republican presidents while they have disapproved of Democratic ones. For example, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave President Barack Obama the lowest marks of any faith while Muslims gave him the highest approval, Gallup says.
In 2008, some 49 percent of Mormons approved of then-President George W. Bush, though his overall approval rating was in the 30s among all U.S. adults. Some 39 percent of Americans now approve of Trump.
Polling during the 2016 race showed Democrat Hillary Clinton on par with disapproval numbers for Obama among Mormons but Trump was only at 33 percent approval before securing the GOP nomination.
“It’s gone up since the summer of 2016,” Monson said, “but it’s not approaching 80 percent, which is where it would be [for a different early-term Republican president].”
Trump had acknowledged during the 2016 presidential campaign that he had a “tremendous problem in Utah,” a reference to LDS concerns with his candidacy. Trump won the heavily Mormon state with 45 percent of the vote after third-party candidate Evan McMullin, an LDS adherent, made a last-minute bid for the presidency.
The Gallup poll suggests Mormons are sticking with Trump despite sharp criticism by some LDS politicians, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who castigated Trump during the GOP primaries and is now considering a bid for the Senate from Utah.
Flake, while not calling Trump out by name, said he would retire this year and slammed “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior that when it “emanates from the top of our government” is dangerous to democracy. In 2016, Romney had called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud.”
Monson notes that while Mormons may as a group still back Trump, it’s likely most of them are in the “somewhat approve” category, especially given Trump’s comments about immigrants, the strong language he uses and his tweets.
“Even if they’re loyal Republicans, they’re still unhappy loyal Republicans,” Monson said, noting that many Mormon supporters are “reluctant, as in ‘I guess this is better than Hillary [Clinton] kind of approval but I wish he would be better at this.’”
The Gallup report is based on more than 122,000 interviews last year, with sample sizes ranging from 60,411 Protestants to 893 Muslims. Some 2,141 Mormons were surveyed, giving the poll result a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Jason Perry, the director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the poll shows Mormon loyalty to the Republican Party more than it does support for Trump. He also noted that Latter-day Saints have given Republican presidents higher marks in the past.
“Part of the story is that he’s at 61 percent [among Mormons],” Perry said, “but the other part of the story is why is he not higher.”
A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in October found that Utahns gave Trump a 52 percent job-approval rating. Very active Mormons approved of him 63 percent to 36 percent, according to the poll. Somewhat active Mormons gave him a 49-43 percent approval, while inactive Mormons approved of him by a 51-48 percent margin.