David-E-Cammpbell-1In this episode of Mormon Stories, J. Nelson-Seawright interviews David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and the founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy, about his celebrated research on religion and politics in America. Professor Campbell argues that the current partisan environment, in which religious people mostly support the Republican Party and less religious people the Democratic Party, is a recent development — and he explains how this pattern can help explain America’s recent rise in irreligiosity.

Campbell also discusses his work on Mormonism and politics. He explains his research about how Mormon identity is different in American context: stronger, more collective, more integrated, and with stricter boundaries. He discusses implications for how Mormonism interacts with politics, and also for the identity and religious options of liberal and disaffected Mormons.



  1. Curt October 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    I agree with his point at around 10:00-11:00. People (myself included) are afraid of being seen as a “political-religious” and therefore are more likely inclined to say we are not religious at all.

  2. maddy October 31, 2014 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Super interesting discussion! Much thanks to James and Prof. Campbell.

    I have been saying (and lamenting) for many years that the use of religion as a political tool and the insertion of politics in religion would be detrimental to both institutions.

    Some random questions/thoughts:
    Campbell mentioned the uniformity of Mormons across the U.S., and I wonder if they looked at how many of those Mormons had either originated from UT/inter-mountain west OR had attended school–BYU Provo/Idaho? Having lived in different states I’ve found that a large percentage of members were ex-pats from UT or the inter-mountain west.

    I am one of those who has grappled with the historical issues for several years but it was the negative/misleading/dishonest campaign on Prop 8, the church involvement with the Hobby Lobby case, the church ownership of decidedly right-wing Deseret News that has caused me to change my involvement with the church in significant ways. I wonder if there has been any examination of the power/influence of Deseret News as a de facto Church voice among UT LDS members or LDS members in general. I find it difficult to square the church position of “political neutrality” while the paper it owns heavily endorses, in a one-sided way, Republican positions and candidates.

    • Robert Hodge December 5, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      The Mormon Church is anything but politically “neutral”. I you want to know what the Mormon “Brethren” think about any political issue, just read the DMN. And, if you want confirmation, just make a critical comment and watch how fast it the DMN Editor’s find a basis to censure it.

    • Bella December 8, 2014 at 11:14 am - Reply

      I am not attending church and one of the reasons is that proposition 8 and because the church gets too involved in politics lately. Some people don’t care about what the church does and supports the church no matter what. But for me, this issue of church becoming more and more like a political party is a big deal. If I wanted to attend a republican country club, I could joint the party myself without going to church. I am sick of the the way the leaders are handling church affairs lately. I rather stay home away from all of this stuff.

    • Janel July 29, 2020 at 8:26 pm - Reply

      Just reading this. Super interesting because people in Utah and Idaho call the Deseret News liberal now (which is silly).

  3. Susan October 31, 2014 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    I take issue with the part where Campbell says, “it seems strange that people are changing their religion because of their politics, when their entire eternal salvation depends upon their religion.” I disagree that people are changing their religious affiliation because of something as “frivolous” and “temporal” as political views, rather, because of people’s personal experiences and a broader global consciousness, they are realizing that their once cherished and age-old religious beliefs are actually evidence of their falseness, which in turn allows them to let go of them as an authority over their lives and instead listen to their inner moral compass which points them to a particular political view.

    For example, there was once a time when women didn’t have the right to vote, go to school, work certain jobs, or own property, and this cultural practice was reinforced by scripture (women are to be submissive to men and not lead in any way). Today, from personal experience and a new global perspective, we see these scriptural passages as evidence of their misguidedness, so they can be abandoned as an authority over our lives. The same with slavery, or anti-miscegenation laws, they were once defended by biblical passages, but today we recognize them as wrong, another reason to dismiss their source. Now, the same thing is happening with gay rights. The Bible says one thing, but more and more people are realizing the Biblical interpretation is narrow, unmerciful, and “wrong”, so that becomes further evidence of the unreliability of religion over our lives. I think people are simply waking up and using their brains to guide their lives instead of holding on to outdated, religious world views.

  4. Frank October 31, 2014 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    I smile every time I read the words “Social” and “Science” in the same sentence. They pay people to tell us what we already know! To quote Yakov Smirnoff, “What a country!”

  5. Peter November 1, 2014 at 1:34 am - Reply

    The elephant in the room of this discussion is the global church, which now outnumbers American Mormons. I appreciate the discussion was focused on the United States, but that didn’t stop all the generalizations about Mormons or the presumption that American Mormonism is Mormonism. I can’t speak for the global church, but admonishments like ‘get out of your insulated communities and more involved with people who are non-LDS’ are a given in most countries, and the trend towards ‘assimilation’ and ‘building Zion where you are’ obviously will not play out in an American way, if the country you are assimilating into is, say, the Netherlands or Australia. The wards I grew up in (in New Zealand) were ‘pioneering’, first-generation inner-city working-class multicultural migrant wards. My wife and I vote centre-left for pragmatic reasons (we would vote further left if the parties were viable) and consider ourselves socialists. Political positions cover the spectrum in my country but notably generally don’t define the nature of one’s church affiliation. There are LDS politicians in left and right parties, but the political culture is very different from the US – religion is generally not a factor at all, and Dallin Oaks made many members in NZ uncomfortable when he tried twice – in NZ and to NZ from a special stake broadcast – to introduce the marriage equality issue, where it was a done deal. Indeed, many of us are aghast and embarrassed at the ultra conservatism of the Mormon church in the United States. American Mormonism has its own political character, but it cannot stand in for Mormonism in general when most Mormons do not live in the United States. The political character of Mormonism is a lot more complicated.

  6. Emily November 3, 2014 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    What an awesome discussion! The Monday following Obama’s inauguration, I sat in my BYU Book of Mormon class and listened to my professor lead a discussion on how Obama must be the antiChrist. Students quoted from the Book of Mormon to back up these claims…. all because a Mormon lost the election. Parties aside, it was a very disturbing experience.

  7. Craig November 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    This was a fascinating interview. In fact, I listened to this one and the RadioWest interview that David Campbell was also on, and I thought this one was better by a fair margin! J. Nelson Seawright, you really asked some insightful questions and allowed Dr. Campbell to go deep with his answers. Well done.

  8. Snj November 8, 2014 at 9:31 am - Reply

    I didn’t think I would find this podcast interesting. However it exceeded my expectations! Lots of good info here. I will refer it to friends as one of my favorites. Thanks!!!

  9. […] David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, gave an interview to Mormon Stories just before the midterm elections. He discussed the rapidly rising number of people, especially Millenials, who chose to not have a religious identification. They’re called Nones. What’s surprising about the Nones is that they are responding to politics when they say they have no religious affiliation. Apparently, they are so disgusted by the religious right and its alliance with the Republican party, and its the socially backwards, environmentally unfriendly policies, that they would rather have no religion at all. In other words, religious Republicans are God’s worst PR nightmare. Well worth a listen. Check it out here. […]

  10. Paul November 16, 2014 at 12:04 am - Reply

    I want to leave the following thoughts about my affiliation with Mormonism and the Democratic Party. I am hoping some will read it and let me know if and where I am mislead.

    God said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” My goal, as well for all of us, is to become perfect. An environment to let me try my hand at doing the right thing, of my own free will, is the more sure route to perfection, provided I choose the right.
    Compulsion, the use of authority, influence, or other power to force (compel) me and you to act, as apposed to complete freedom to chose how to act, is the environment that will slow our progress to become perfect. Complete freedom then also becomes our goal. Obviously we can’t accomplish either, complete freedom or perfection, in mortal life. But, to let us attempt the task is God’s plan of salvation. He who is compelled in all things is a slothful servant. Therefore, he who is compelled in anything is, likewise not given the full credit for doing the right thing. Our eternal progression is therefore hampered by any man made law that compels us to perform. The fewer the number of laws the better the environment for eternal progression.

    I submit that the Republican political agenda is more restrictive to freedom than is the Democratic agenda. That is why I am a Democrat and a Mormon. The Democrat allows me to make more choices and maybe mistakes. Have an abortion, be immoral, marry a same gender person, join a wrong religious group that teaches the wrong principles, and on and on, are all choices. By the way, the gay marriage itself can’t be immoral, it is only the participation in sex that must be immoral.

    Total freedom, remember, is the goal, but societal disruption may increase unless most people can manage themselves to do the right thing. Some law is necessary until we all approach perfection.

    Mormon doctrine provides the correct principles. Joseph Smith said, “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves”. To experience complete freedom requires no laws and at the same time involves us all at once. We need to help each other. The more equal we are in our environment the more likely we are to both succeed together. We need to give each other equal advantage. We need to be temporally equal to keep the playing field as level for me as for you.

    Poverty creates an environment of desperation which leads to discouragement and lost hope. Actions that satisfy the immediate need to survive, often prompts us to make choices that are not right, given limited resources. The law of consecration, if we can get our minds in a place to all agree to live it, would eliminate poverty. The Democratic Party platform is the better of the platforms to move us toward living the law of consecration. After all, the Democrats platform and the “law of consecration” both are accused, falsely, of Socialism. Opening our borders to immigration is more inclusive to temporal equality, ideally all living the law of consecration, thence less rich and less poor amount us, thence the closer all of us move to our goal of eternal life. That is why I am a Democrat and Mormon.

    “In the view of Joseph’s revelations, inequality poisoned society. “Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls,” declared one, and then immediately continued “wo unto you poor men . . . whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with their own hands!” Wealth itself was not the evil; in the Book of Mormon, righteousness brought prosperity. The evil was the social distance separating rich and poor. The rich “despise the poor, and they persecute the meek.” In their pride, men adorn themselves “with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick, and the afflicted to pass by . . . and notice them not.” 50 Unequal property prevented people from being “of one heart and one mind,” the ideal of Enoch’s city.” From Rough Stone Rolling pg 3518 ebook.

    So, Harry Reid and the Democrat Mormon just may be answering the temple recommend question more honestly than a Republican Mormon, heaven forbid. ” Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

    The organization I affiliate with teaches that Americans should have the right to chose. Remember, the platform is intended to allow all Americans to chose abortion, gay marriage, etc. It does not teach to practice it. The sin, if it is a sin, is not committed until you actually do it.

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