As in: Why don’t people like us Mormons? Why do people seem to view the LDS Church quite unfavorably? This is based on a recent YouGov poll and post with the bland title “Americans’ views on 35 on religious groups, organizations, and belief systems.” Go spend a few minutes there. The results are terribly interesting. If you are active LDS, the results are surprising and somewhat humbling. They don’t like us. They really don’t like us. Right up front let me acknowledge that I came across this poll reading a post discussing it over at BCC. The post is worth reading, as well as all 61 comments. Below, I will quickly summarize the results and the LDS favorability score, then offer a few observations.

The results. The methodology looks sound (it’s a polling company, after all). They combine the responses into a net favorability rating for each of the 35 groups. The LDS Church scores a -21, which is not good at all. That’s a better score than Satanism and Scientology, which both come in at -49, but below Wicca (-15) and atheism (-13). So if someone asks you what people in general think of the LDS Church, you can now respond with: “Well, they view us more favorably than Satanism but less favorably than Wicca.”

Knock, knock. For a church that puts a great deal of time and effort into proselyting, these results should be concerning. Apparently a fairly large chunk of people on the other side of doors that missionaries knock on start out with a fairly negative view of the Church. No conversation on the doorstep is going to change that. Given that most people aren’t very happy about random people knocking on their door for any reason, the Mormon missionary practice of doing a lot of tracting (less than in years past, but still a lot) probably hurts rather than helps LDS favorability. There’s some discussion of this in the BCC comment thread.

Maybe not being Mormon can be confusing. The poll includes both the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Stories in the press are likely to refer to the first as the FLDS Church and the second as the LDS Church. Do you see a problem here? Previously, if someone asked the average Mormon whether Warren Jeffs was part of your church, the easy answer would be, “No, that’s the FLDS Church. We’re the Mormons. We’re different.” Now, following the LDS directive to shun that self-description, the answer would be something like: “No, you’re thinking of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We’re the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They use a hyphen and a big D. We use a hyphen and a small d. Big difference.”

Red versus blue? The YouGov presentation of results breaks out Republican versus Democratic results. Republicans really like Christianity (+54) and really really dislike Satanism (-70), Jehovah’s Witnesses (-42), and Islam (-41), with the LDS Church coming in at -12. Democrats like Christianity (+29) but like agnostics almost as much (+24). Democrats dislike the LDS Church (-27) about as much as they dislike Satanism (-32) and the JWs (-21). Interestingly, both have about the same degree of serious dislike for Scientology (-55 and -51).

A perceptive commenter at BCC opined that the LDS Church gets it from both sides of this divide. Democrats probably dislike the Church for the strongly conservative and anti-gay positions the Church and most of its members take. Republicans probably dislike the Church because many of them are conservative Christians who consider the LDS Church a heretical sect or a cult. Even mainline Christians are likely to view the LDS Church this way. While there are a lot of possible explanations for the strongly negative favorability score of the LDS Church, I think this factor is probably the strongest.

Why don’t they like us? Let me say right up front there may not be a clear answer to this. I’ll bet you can think of a movie or team or business or person that you just don’t like without having a clearcut reason you don’t like them. Think of the time you asked a friend about what they thought of some third person you are trying to figure out, and your friend replies, “Nope, don’t like him at all. Strongly dislike.” Then you ask why, and your friend responds, “He really rubs me the wrong way. I don’t know, could be this, could be that. But I really don’t like him.” That’s often how we humans are: we can generate strong likes and dislikes for a lot of things. It’s largely an emotional response. We often have a hard time giving good reasons for our strong likes and dislikes.

Another caveat about explanations. Obviously, most of the polling respondents were non-LDS. I believe non-LDS, to the extent they can give reasons for disliking the LDS Church, are likely to have different reasons for their dislike than an active LDS who objects to a thing or two about the Church or a former LDS who objects to several things about the Church. The whole thing about not baptizing children of gay couples, then reversing course and softening the policy? That bugs a lot of LDS and former LDS, but I doubt one out of a hundred non-LDS who don’t live in Utah or Idaho are the slightest bit aware of that policy kerfuffle. Inside the Mormon bubble there isn’t much discussion of the yellow shirt Helping Hands work, but I’m sure there are more than a few non-LDS who have had personal experience with this or who read a positive media story on it — and as a result move from unfavorable to favorable. It’s just really hard for an LDS person to get a handle on how non-LDS think of Mormons and the LDS Church. Well, other than the fact that it is clear they view the Church highly unfavorably compared to most other churches and groups. “Still more popular than Satanism and Scientology” isn’t much to brag about.

Explanations. I’m not even going to try a bullet list of possible explanations, there are just so many angles to this. I mentioned a couple in the above discussion: politically, we take flak from both sides of the aisle (for different reasons) and no one likes strangers knocking on their door, particularly after dark. I’ll just throw out two general inquiries:

  • What do you think of the YouGov polling results?
  • And why do you think Mormons and the LDS Church are viewed so unfavorably?