Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the 2012 Election

By Knoll, Benjamin R. | The New England Journal of Political Science, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the 2012 Election


Knoll, Benjamin R., The New England Journal of Political Science


MITT ROMNEY, MORMONISM, AND THE 2012 ELECTION. By Luke Perry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. ix + 241 pp.

Luke Perry's "Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the 2012 Election" seeks to provide a one-stop introduction to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its involvement in American politics, with a specific emphasis on how Mormonism factored into the 2012 presidential campaign. In general, it accomplishes this goal with a compelling narrative and an impressive amount of detail.

Chapter 2 gives a very basic overview of the history and doctrine of Mormonism, which would be especially useful for people who are just starting from scratch in their understanding of the American-born religion. The author hits the important highlights and cites a good mix of Mormon and non-Mormon scholarship. Chapter 3 continues the historical overview through the 20th century, supplementing the narrative with data from the Pew Research Center's "2011 National Survey of Mormons" to paint a picture of the contemporary Mormon community. At one point the narrative is framed with Terryl Givens' "People of Paradox" paradigm (Givens 2007), pointing out that like all other religions, Mormonism has a number of unresolved tensions in its doctrine and culture (authority vs. freedom, certainty vs. searching, sacred vs. temporal, and particularism vs. universalism).

Chapter 4 presents a discussion of public perceptions of Mormonism, with a focus on how the LDS Church has dealt with controversial racial and economic issues. This chapter also includes a summary of the Church's public relations struggle to disassociate itself from the term "cult" over the past few decades. There is also a discussion of how Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign was a turning point in the eyes of the media, in that "Mormonism moved within the bounds of an acceptable religion" (pg. 76).

Chapter 5 turns to Mitt Romney himself, providing a short personal biography with an emphasis on his involvement in the LDS volunteer leadership positions he has held throughout his life. This chapter also describes the episodes of the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries that dealt with his religious affiliation and public reactions to it. Chapters 6 and 7 provide introductions to the LDS Church's involvement in political matters stretching all the way from founder Joseph Smith's ill-fated campaign for the presidency in 1844 to the Church's involvement in California Proposition 8 in 2008. It also contains a summary of the various instances in which Mitt Romney explicitly talked about his faith on the campaign trail. (While Chapter 7 appropriately focuses its attention on LDS involvement in same-sex marriage debates, it glosses over other important areas that the Church has involved itself in recently, such as immigration). The book concludes in chapters 8 and 9 with a discussion of the results of the 2012 presidential election and the author's perspective on how Mormonism may have factored into Romney's loss.

Generally-speaking, this book is well-written and detailed in its descriptions and narratives. The author, while disclosing to his readers that he is a non-Mormon, displays an impressive understanding of the LDS Church and Mormon culture. There are a few places, though, where the narrative shows a lack of familiarity and nuance in its understanding of the particulars of Mormonism.

For instance, Perry describes how Mormons believe that in the afterlife they will eventually "become Gods of their own planet" (pg. 63). While there are Mormon leaders who explicitly taught such as much in decades past, this hyper-literal belief is now somewhat dated in Mormon culture and certainly not an official teaching of the LDS Church (even though it made for a great line in the Book of Mormon musical!). Indeed, the Church published an online essay in February 2014 in which it explains: "Latter-day Saints' doctrine of exaltation is often ... reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets. …

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