* Most Mormons call themselves conservative, Republican
* They view fellow Mormon Mitt Romney favorably
* Many say they sense distrust of Mormonism
By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Most Mormons believe their
religion is not well understood by Americans and many sense
hostility but a survey done as Mormonism gains political and
cultural prominence shows they are also optimistic that
tolerance of their faith is rising.
The New York Times and other media have dubbed this the
"Mormon moment" with two Mormons - Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman
- vying for the Republican nomination to run for U.S. president,
a hit play ("The Book of Mormon"), a popular cable television
series (HBO's "Big Love") and the best-selling "Twilight"
vampire books written by a Mormon.
"We wanted to find out how Mormons themselves are responding
to the Mormon moment," said Greg Smith, chief researcher at the
Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, which
surveyed 1,019 adult Mormons in October and November 2011.
"We find a mixed picture," he said in an interview. "On the
one hand, Mormons in many ways see themselves as misunderstood.
They think they are discriminated against, that they are not
fully accepted by other Americans."
Mormons make up nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population of
about 313 million people.
Six in 10 Mormons in the survey said they believe Americans
know little or nothing about Mormonism. Half said Mormons face a
lot of discrimination and two-thirds said people do not think of
Mormonism as part of mainstream American society.
"On the other hand, the survey also shows Mormons in many
ways are optimistic. They are happy with their lives and with
their communities and (63 percent of those asked) think
acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise," Smith said.
So far during the Republican campaign, the focus has been
less on Romney's participation in The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, the formal name for Mormonism, and more on
the millionaire's past as a Bain Capital executive buying and
restructuring companies and on his time as governor of
That could change in the Jan. 21 South Carolina Republican
primary election in which evangelical Protestants are expected
to form a large voting bloc. Some evangelicals harbor mistrust
for fast-growing Mormonism and its more exotic beliefs.
The Pew report said while a substantial majority of the
world's 14 million Mormons view themselves as Christians, some
non-Mormons view them as a cult based on the belief in living
apostles and prophets, two additional books of scripture besides
the Bible and other tenets.
Last year, a Pew survey concluded Romney's candidacy could
face resistance in the Republican primaries from evangelical
voters, although they would support him over President Barack
Obama, a Democrat, in this November's general election.
Fifteen percent of evangelical Republicans have said they
are less likely to vote for Romney because of his religion.
In contrast, 56 percent of Mormons in the survey said they
believe the United States is ready to elect a Mormon president.
Eighty-six percent of Mormon voters, including some Democrats,
had a favorable view of Romney, according to the survey, which
had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
Despite their differences, Mormons and evangelicals do have
things in common, Smith said: They are ideologically
conservative, a majority are Republican or lean Republican, they
tend to attend church and pray regularly, and religion is often
important in their lives.
"There's clearly a recognition on the part of the Mormon
population that they face challenges related to acceptance,
discrimination and the like. There are no illusions about that,"
"At the same time, they're an optimistic group that thinks
that acceptance of Mormonism is on the rise and the country is
ready to elect a Mormon as president."
(Reporting By Andrew Stern; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
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