Jana Riess: Younger Latter-day Saints voted for Biden, but Trump fared well overall

Millennials and members of color chose the Democrat, but two-thirds of U.S. Latter-day Saints overall — women and men — voted Republican.

(Andrew Harnik | AP file photo) Joe Biden celebrates his victory Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. A survey of election results shows younger Latter-day Saints favored the Democratic former vice president over GOP President Donald Trump.

Nearly half of U.S. Latter-day Saints under age 40 voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, according to the 2020 Cooperative Election Study (formerly known as the Cooperative Congressional Election Study). The survey canvassed a nationally representative sample of 61,000 American adults.

According to an analysis by Jacob Rugh, an associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, the sample included 848 people who identified themselves as belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of those, 644 indicated how they voted in the election.

For people who have been following Mormons and American politics, there were several interesting findings.

1. Nearly half of younger voters went Democratic.

The breakdown for the under-40 set was 47% Biden, 42% Donald Trump, and 11% for third-party candidates.

This continues a trend we’ve been seeing for at least five years now, in which younger Latter-day Saints are less likely to fall in line with the default Republican affiliation that has characterized Mormon voters since the 1950s. In the 2016 Next Mormons Survey that Benjamin Knoll and I conducted, we found that millennials were nearly evenly divided between parties, though the edge went to Republican affiliation (46%) over Democratic (41%). Here, in the 2020 voting results, that would seem to be reversed, with the slight edge tipping toward Biden and the Democrats.

It remains to be seen whether this is a specific reaction against Trump or will outlast him. It’s also unclear whether these voters will grow more conservative as they age. If you look only at the small numbers of Generation Z voters in the mix, Biden won even more decisively, but it’s not a large enough sample size to draw definitive conclusions.

2. Latter-day Saint voters of color also chose Biden.

Overall, 55% of Latter-day Saint respondents of color voted for the Democrat, compared to just 26% of white respondents. Again, the small number of respondents of color should make us cautious about conclusions, though the result is in keeping with the larger trend among U.S. voters.

In all, 69% of white Latter-day Saints chose Trump, which is less than the support he garnered among white evangelical Protestants, but still higher than his showing among Mormons in 2016. That year, fellow church member Evan McMullin pulled away some of the Latter-day Saint vote. In 2020, there was no serious spoiler candidate, and both Trump and Biden improved upon their party’s 2016 showing among Latter-day Saints.

3. Trump support ran strongest among those with less education.

Trump performed best among Latter-day Saints without a college degree (67%), and a bit less strongly among those with a college degree or more (62%).

Biden’s strongest showing occurred among Latter-day Saint voters with a postgraduate degree, though he still gained only 39% of that demographic compared to Trump’s 55%.

4. The biggest surprise: There was no gender gap.

After months of pre-election polling that showed Trump with markedly less support among Latter-day Saint women than men, women rallied around him in almost equal measure in the end.

Some 65% of Latter-day Saint women voted for Trump, compared to 66% of men.