A couple of weeks back, there was a fair amount written highlighting the degree to which different faiths believed — or didn’t believe — the notion that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were near the top, with 46% nationwide believing the unsubstantiated conspiracy theories blaming widespread election fraud.
In Utah, it turns out, the numbers are almost exactly the same, according to a recent Y2 Analytics poll that found 53% of Latter-day Saint voters in Utah believe that the election was rife with fraud and the outcome is illegitimate.
And while it might be tempting to assume there is some correlation between religion and doubting the election outcome, it takes a back seat to partisan identity when it comes to buying into what has been dubbed Trump’s “big lie.”
Nearly four out of five Trump voters in Utah believe the election was stolen from the ex-president, which includes some political independents and a whopping 71% of self-identified members of the Republican Party.
Of course the Venn diagram of LDS members and Republican voters in Utah has a lot of overlap, said Quin Monson, a founding partner of Y2 Analytics, but the numbers indicate it’s partisan identity driving people’s views, with the religious beliefs along for the ride.
It also points to the challenge for church leaders’ recent attempts to tamp down belief in conspiracies — adding a section on misinformation to the church handbook in December — a statement condemning the January pro-Trump rioting at the U.S. Capitol, and a prominently featured speech by President Dallin H. Oaks at General Conference in April cautioning members against strident partisanship and devotion to a political leader.
“We are to be governed by law and not by individuals,” Oaks said, “and our loyalty is to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any officeholder.”
If those actions, taken well before the poll was conducted, did anything to temper the fringe views in the state, it wasn’t much.
“You can’t counter a steady drumbeat from Donald Trump of ‘Fraud! Fraud! Fraud! backed up by a good number of the national party leadership with just a General Conference talk or two,” Monson said.
It makes sense that in our rabidly partisan climate, political ideology more than religious identity or age or geography seem to be dictating views on the hot-button issues of the day.
Take vaccines. Even though the vaccines for COVID-19 were developed during Trump’s presidency, and even though he and members of his family have received the shots and he has encouraged other Americans to get vaccinated, that doesn’t seem to matter.
Trump supporters, so far, are less likely to get the shot, lagging well behind the statewide average. In Utah, half those who voted for Trump in 2020 say they would not get the shot at all, the Y2 data reveals for the first time.
That’s half, compared to 1% of Biden voters.
In fact, it’s not how old you are, or where you live, or where you go to church. It’s political party and, even more so, whether you supported Trump that predicts who will refuse to be vaccinated.
It poses a daunting challenge to state health officials trying to persuade these holdouts to get a shot.
I wrote a while ago that LDS Church leaders — who have been outspoken in their support of the vaccination — might be able to reach some of the vaccine resistant and, more importantly, could connect the shots with willing arms and provide buildings and volunteers to staff clinics.
But this data shows that would solve only part of the problem. Less than a third of church members say they won’t get a shot, which is substantial if you can reach them, but not all that different than the rest of the population.
The most troubling takeaway from these figures is the degree to which Utah Republicans are willing to believe — despite all evidence to the contrary — that the election was stolen from Trump and simultaneously reject all of the evidence that the vaccines are safe and incredibly effective.
This political identity is the new religion when it comes to shaping worldviews, Trump the focus of the worship, and the implications are alarming.
If we’re ever to return to a GOP in Utah grounded in reality, the party’s leaders need to stop propping up unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. We need an independent account of the events surrounding the attack on the U.S. Capitol, like the one Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps. John Curtis and Blake Moore voted to conduct. We need these politicians more engaged in urging Utahns to get vaccinated.
We need them, in short, to be honest with constituents rather than feeding the frenzy that has left such a large segment of the party detached from reality.
Because if the government is illegitimate, science and medicine are rejected and even the normally persuasive appeal to religion is inadequate, then there are precious few remaining threads holding our society together.
Correction, June 4, 6:05 p.m.: This story was changed to correct the percent of Latter-day Saint voters in Utah who believe that the election was stolen.