Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who identify as Republican have significantly dropped since the 2012 presidential election and are transitioning to Independent, according to a Pew Research survey.
The survey found that 48 percent of registered Mormon voters now describe themselves as Republican, dropping from 61 percent four years ago when Mitt Romney was running for president in 2012. Mormon Democrat voters dropped from 14 percent to 13 percent since 2012, according to the survey.
Ron Nate, a Republican Idaho State Representative and a BYU-Idaho professor in the economics department, said the Republican party is not holding to the values it once held.
“It’s less clear what Republicans stand for,” Nate said. “As Republicans are deviating from Republican Party issues, a lot of Mormons are wondering what is happening to their party.”
Kyle Treasure, a BYU-I alumnus and active member of the Church, said at the beginning of the 2016 presidential election that he followed the Republican Party closely. But, as the election proceeded, he began to distance himself from the GOP.
“I didn’t really care about the democratic side at first because I wasn’t going to vote for either of them,” Treasure said. “The more I followed the Republican side, the more disappointed I felt — specifically on what was being said about immigrants, both legal and illegal, and other social issues.”
Manuel and Claire Saldana, members of the Church, told The Associated Press they normally agree with Republican values and principles but are finding it difficult to stay with the GOP after Donald Trump was elected as the Republican Party nominee.
“Trump’s inability to connect with Mormon voters, such as the Saldanas, is likely the main reason the Republican hold on voters from the conservative faith has slipped significantly since 2012,” according to the AP.
Nate said Donald Trump is not clearly supportive on a lot of the social issues that Mormon Republican conservatives value, such as traditional marriage and a clear pro-life stance.
Treasure said that he does believe Donald Trump is the reason why many previously Republican Mormons have disassociated themselves with the GOP but that Trump just gave a platform and a voice to a wing of the Republican Party that was always there, but now cannot be ignored.
“I saw the rise of Donald Trump, which is the rise of racist and inflammatory rhetoric, and that’s what it came down to,” Treasure said. “The moment when I was like, ‘I’m not a Republican anymore,’ was when I went to vote in the primaries in Wyoming. They asked if I was a Republican, and my stomach dropped — that was the moment where I realized my beliefs don’t line up with what this party stands for anymore. My beliefs hadn’t changed, but the party has.”
Out of the 15 Church leaders in the First Presidency and in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, six are registered Republicans and nine are unaffiliated with any political party, according to Utah public records. In 2012, 11 of the 15 members of Church leadership were registered Republicans.
The Church remains neutral on matters of political elections but encourages its members to participate and be engaged and informed in the political process.
“I think every voter has an obligation to vote on the issues that are important to them and vote their conscience,” Nate said. “They should look at the candidates and see how they compare to the values they support.”
Nate said it is disheartening for voters to say they should support Donald Trump so that Hillary Clinton does not win.
“I’m reluctant to vote this year; I don’t like either candidate,” said Erica Marley, a BYU-I alumna who identifies as an independent Democrat. “I realize Hillary would be better for minorities and women, but I can’t vote for someone under FBI investigation in good conscience. I’m thinking on voting for a third party candidate like Gary Johnson.”
Treasure said he now identifies as an Independent voter and seeks to vote based on the values of his faith.
“As a Mormon, I’m looking for human dignity and how the worth of every soul is great in the sight of God and listening to what these candidates are saying and comparing it to the strong values and beliefs that I have,” Treasure said.
Treasure said he is not 100 percent sold on voting for either candidate but is leaning toward Hillary Clinton.
“I’m looking forward to the debates because hopefully they will clarify things in my mind and clarify things for other members of the Church who are struggling with this decision,” Treasure said. “I’ve met very, very few members who feel 100 percent confident about their vote in November, so I hope the debates will shed some light and help people see the election in the same sort of way that I’m seeing it right now.”