(Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
According to a recently released survey by a major research organization, even after increased national exposure American perceptions of Mormonism have changed little over the past year.
The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life released their findings last week, which were based off of surveys conducted from Dec. 5 to 9 among an estimated 1,500 adults. Pew's findings included 82 percent of respondents saying they learned little or nothing about Mormonism during the presidential campaign and "cult" being the word chosen most to describe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
David E. Campbell, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, told The Christian Post that the findings of the Pew survey were "not surprising."
"Research, both mine and others, has consistently shown that the most important factor shaping perceptions of other religions is contact – personal relationships – with members of that religion," said Campbell.
"Since a Broadway play and a presidential campaign are not likely to lead to more friendships between Mormons and non-Mormons, it is not surprising that Americans' perceptions of Mormons have not changed much."
Over the past year, the LDS Church gained a great deal of national attention in the realms of politics and entertainment. The Broadway play "The Book of Mormon," produced by the creators of "South Park," was a major success. Also, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon who had at one time been a bishop in the LDS Church, clinched the nomination of the Republican Party.
These events led Time magazine to coin the term "Mormon Moment," when America was becoming more aware of the LDS Church, whose members to make up about 2 percent of the nation's population.
Campbell told CP that he felt that while failing to be victorious in the presidential election, Romney was "the quintessential Mormon."
"In many ways, Romney is the quintessential Mormon-devoted family man, former missionary and bishop, and so on," said Campbell. "However, given our polarized times, I would suggest that no LDS politician will be able to sway perceptions of Mormons, at least among those who march to the beat of a different political drummer."
While largely unchanged, the Pew stud did note some changes. For example, 48 percent of white mainline Protestants surveyed felt Mormonism was "very different" from their beliefs, an eight point drop from August 2007. Incidentally, in the 2012 presidential election Romney handily won the white mainline Protestant vote, earning 54 percent of their vote versus President Barack Obama's 44 percent.
Eric Hawkins, senior manager of Media Relations for the Public Affairs Department of the LDS Church, told The Christian Post that he was happy to notice what improvements the survey did show regarding Americans' views on Mormons.
"We're grateful for the increase in favorable feelings shown by the results of the recent Pew study, which are significant," said Hawkins.
"We have long maintained that when people learn about each other, misinformation and misperception are replaced with facts. That is always a good thing. We look forward to this trend continuing."