Lawrence Research Poll: Polygamy Confusion Could Hurt Romney, Huntsman

Sep 12, 2011, 12:51 ET from Lawrence Research

Poll Reveals Only 14% Accurate Understanding

SANTA ANA, Calif., Sept. 12, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A national public opinion survey by Lawrence Research reveals considerable confusion about Mormons and polygamy.  The misconceptions could influence the fortunes of the two Mormons running for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, especially if less knowledgeable voters turn out.

When asked whether Mormons practice polygamy, only 14% of the 905 voters in the July national sample knew the correct answer:

Definitely Yes              


Probably Yes


Probably No


Definitely No


No Opinion


According to poll director Gary Lawrence, a Mormon and author of Mormons Believe … What?!, "The accurate answer about polygamy is 'Yes we did and no we don't.'"  

For about 50 years in the 1800s, specific members of the LDS Church were commanded, Mormons believe, to practice polygamy, but the practice was discontinued in 1890.  Today, Mormons found in polygamous relationships are excommunicated.

That 86% of voters are either mistaken or uncertain about polygamy could influence vote decisions:  

Of those who correctly know that Mormons do not practice polygamy, 39% would definitely consider voting for one, compared to only 26% among the rest of the voters.

Similarly, 83% of voters who know that Mormons do not practice polygamy would vote for a well-qualified nominee of their party who happens to be a Mormon (the Gallup wording), whereas only 68% of those who believe Mormons practice polygamy, or are not sure, would vote for a Mormon nominee.

Much of the confusion about polygamy, according to Lawrence, stems from breakaway groups that practice polygamy and claim to be part of a Mormon faith community.  When voters were asked about the Mormon nickname, 30% said it applies only to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Romney and Huntsman are members, while 45% feel it applies to all groups that believe the Book of Mormon; 25% had no opinion.  

"We reject the concept of a multi-group Mormon faith family," said Dr. Lawrence.  "Today's polygamists are not Mormons and Mormons are not polygamists.  Our members bristle when the media or opinion leaders mistake one group for the other."

Despite ongoing clarifications, many people, especially the less religious and those under 45, continue to associate Romney and Huntsman's religion (14 million members) with polygamist groups (around 100,000).  Should this 120-year confusion be cleared up, there is no question that it would help both men.

Gary Lawrence (Ph.D., Stanford) has been a public opinion pollster for 40 years and is the author of Mormons Believe…What?!  Fact and Fiction About a Rising Religion, which will be released September 22.  He is not affiliated with any presidential campaign.

Methodology:  Random-digit-dialed national sample of 1000 adults including 905 registered voters, July 6-13, 2011, 19% from cell phones.  Margin of error: +/- 3.1 percentage points.  

SOURCE Lawrence Research