Being a Mormon in politics has never been easy. Since Gallup began tracking in 1968, about one in five voters say they wouldn't vote for a "generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be Mormon." But now, neither is being an evangelical Christian.
A Gallup poll released Monday found 81 percent of Americans said they would vote for a Mormon presidential candidate (little-changed from 80 percent in 2012), while only 73 percent said they would vote for an evangelical Christian presidential candidate. It follows an April Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that found more people would be comfortable with a gay or lesbian president than an evangelical one.
These results are surprising -- both because of persistent questions about whether people would vote for Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012 (remember the "Mormon Problem/Question"), and also if you follow public opinion of religious groups that show evangelicals more popular than Mormons.
A July 2014 Pew poll ranked religious groups according to how positively they were rated, by political affiliation. Evangelical Christians were the top-rated group for Republicans, while Mormons were the lowest-rated group for Democrats (they were each in the middle of the pack for Democrats and Republicans, respectability). So what happened?
For some respondents, it might just boil down to social issues. While evangelicals and Mormons are both overwhelmingly conservative and Republican and share similar beliefs for a number of these issues, Mormons aren't on the front lines of the culture wars and have recently taken positions that have a wider, more bipartisan appeal. For same-sex marriage, for instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supported Proposition 8 in California in 2008. But in 2012 it was silent on same-sex marriage ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. In 2013, its response to legalized same-sex marriage in Utah was muted, and last year, it endorsed LGBT non-discrimination legislation. In just a few years, it's gone from public enemy No. 1 to an ally on selected issues.
And the church has also taken a somewhat progressive stances on immigration, while Utah's policy to give homes to the homeless saves millions of dollars is fiscally and religiously appealing, something that can work in a state where lawmakers are majority Republican and Mormon.
Evangelical Christians have long been a powerful force in American politics, but Gallup's poll suggests that influence could be earning an increasing share of detractors. They still make up a quarter of the U.S., so Republican politicians disregard them at their own peril. But among voters, the same percentage see their religion as a negative.