For many people, the words ‘Mormon’ and ‘conservative’ are practically synonymous, given the Church’s strict moral code and its position on social issues like gay marriage and abortion.
Edgar Perez, the president of the College Democrats and a senior studying political science, said he wants to change that perception.
“There are a lot of members of the Church who identify themselves as Democrats,” Perez said. “Our purpose is to make people aware of our views as liberals and Mormons, while at the same time draw awareness to the fact that our faith is a unifying factor despite our differing political views.”
Perez said his goals as president of the College Democrats are to overcome stereotypes and make people aware of Democratic views, connect with other college-aged Democrats from BYU, BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii and sport President Barack Obama in his re-election campaign.
“Our numbers may be few, but when we Democrats work together, we’re able to accomplish much more,” Perez said.
Democrats in Rexburg are at a significant numerical disadvantage.
Of the county’s 7,026 registered voters who have declared a party affiliation, 6,781 have registered as Republicans and
216 have registered as Democrats, according to Madison County’s voter registration summary.
That doesn’t include the 8,015 registered voters who have not declared a party affiliation.
Dawn Anderson, Chairman of the Madison County Democrats, said negative stereotypes are one of the biggest misconceptions people in Rexburg have about Democrats.
“The stereotype is that all Democrats are baby-killing, tax-hiking, anti-business sorts,” Anderson said. “That’s like believing all Republicans hate education and environmental protection. The truth is obviously more complex than either of those interpretations.”
Perez said one of the most common stereotypes is that Democrats want to make everyone depend on the government. Perez said Democrats think the government should help those who are struggling, not create dependence. Anderson said helping people in need should be a core value of any Christian.
“I believe that everyone who professes to believe in Christ ought to be willing to follow his example and take care of the vulnerable in our society, whether they think it hasbeen ‘earned’ or not,” Anderson said.
Anderson said not everyone is born with the same privileges and opportunities, and that the government has the ability to help those in need on a scale no church or charity can.
“Call it redistribution or socialism or whatever you like, but it doesn’t change this fundamental idea: We are all better off when we share and take care of one another and allow all human beings the right to conduct their own lives in the manner they see fit, without denying them basic civil equality,” Anderson said.
Perez said that the strong tie some people make with being Mormon and being conservative has led to unfair accusations.
“There have been occasions when I have been told that because I do not agree with Romney, I must be against the Church,” Perez said. “That is a very gross misconception.”
Many of these accusations arise because many consider some of the Democratic Party’s positions on issues like abortion and birth control to be against Church doctrine.
Perez said being a Democrat doesn’t mean he agrees with all of the party’s positions.
“Just because one subscribes to a particular political party, it does not mean that one subscribes to the entire ideology of the party like some sort of bundle package,” Perez said. “As a Latter-day Saint, I respect the position that the Church has toward issues like birth control and abortion, yet I also respect the agency that each one of us has as children of a Heavenly Father.”
Overcoming the stereotypes isn’t easy. Anderson said it can be difficult to have an open conversation in today’s polarized political culture.
“Once they know you’re a Democrat, they assume that whatever you say will be nonsense and they will just shut their ears and minds to any dialogue you want to have,” Anderson said.
Perez said he gets frustrated when people refuse to listen to different viewpoints.
“I have found people who are so dead set on their views that they are not willing to hear other points of view,” Perez said. “This, in my opinion, is something that should not belong in our political dialogue.”
Perez said he tries to find common ground rather than focus on the differences, when faced with these kinds of situations.
“Elder Quentin Cook once said something to the effect that if we cannot agree on issues, it is within our benefit to agree to disagree,” Perez said. “Very often, I have found this to be effective.”
Perez said Democratic and Republican views are not as different as most people think.
“We both share the same passion for America and want to see it prosper,” Perez said. “We simply agree to disagree on the way that it can be accomplished.”
Anderson said in the end, Democrats just want to help people have better lives.
“We believe in the power of democracy to improve people’s lives,” Anderson said. “It’s as simple as that.”