BeliefWatch: Mormons & Politics

As a rule, Mormons tend to be white, conservative and Republican—and as obedient to established authority as any group out there—but a close look reveals cracks in that glossy surface. There's Harry Reid, of course, the Mormon convert and vocal leader of the Senate Democrats. And there's Orrin Hatch, conservative, Republican and Mormon to the core—except that he supports embryonic-stem-cell research, an issue upon which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official stance but which President George W. Bush opposes. Finally, there's Rocky Anderson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City. A lapsed Mormon—he grew up in an LDS family—Anderson has had to walk a fine line. In Salt Lake, the headquarters of the Latter-day Saints, he has had to be moderate enough attract 20 percent of the LDS vote to win and keep his job. Now, it seems, he's had enough of the high-wire act. This spring, Anderson began calling for the impeachment of President Bush, and more recently he started to launch grenades at his former friend and current presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"There is a culture of obedience in this country, but it's probably no more evident than in most parts of Utah," Anderson told NEWSWEEK in an interview. "That's why we've seen the highest approval ratings here for this entirely corrupt, disastrous presidency." As for Romney, his "opposition to abortion and stem-cell research is a very different Mitt Romney than the one who ran for governor of Massachusetts. I felt that Mitt Romney was a man who could really bring people together in a nonpartisan fashion, who would always stand up for the highest ideals and not worry about the polls ... I can only think this is a man who's caving to what his handlers want him to say."

As a Democrat and former Mormon, Anderson does not represent LDS views. But political scientists at Brigham Young University do say there's a surprising diversity among LDS voters. For starters, Mormons tend to vote regionally: more liberal in Blue States and more conservative in the Red States. And though they are almost universally socially conservative, they are much less predictable on the question of big government versus small government, for example, which means they're up for grabs on issues like health care. Jeff Fox, a researcher at BYU, has studied Mormon voting patterns. Most Mormons, he says, have supported the War on Terror, but "I for one opposed it completely." Rocky Anderson may not be an LDS poster boy, but in some small circles, Mitt Romney isn't either.