Romney’s Candidacy has Piqued Curiosity about Mormons: Evidence from Google Searches

by John Sides on October 1, 2012 · 8 comments

in Campaigns and elections,IT and politics

This is a guest post from political scientists Donald Green and Daniel Butler.

*****

Throughout most of American history, the major parties’ presidential nominees have been belonged to mainline Protestant denominations.  Only two Catholics – Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960 – and one Greek Orthodox – Michael Dukakis in 1988 – have won their party’s nomination.  This year marks the first time a major political party has nominated a Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney.

Opinion polls conducted prior to 2012 suggest that the average American is unfamiliar with Mormons and the Mormon religion.  Last November, 50% of the adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center said that they did not personally know any Mormons, and 49% said they knew “nothing at all” or “not very much” about the Mormon religion.

Indeed, the fact that Romney himself is Mormon has only gradually seeped into the public’s consciousness during the past year.  Last November, only 39% of the public could correctly identify Mitt Romney’s religious affiliation as Mormon.  By the end of June, this number rose to 51%.

One interesting feature of the Romney candidacy is that it seems to be piquing voters’ curiosity about Mormons.  Consider, for example, the frequency with which the search term “Mormon” is plugged into the Google search engine.  Using Google Trends, we plotted the volume of weekly searches in the United States for the terms “Mormon” and “Romney” from 2004 to the present.[1] Searches for “Mormon” or “Romney” remained relatively constant from 2004 to 2007.  In late 2007 and early 2008, Romney campaigned in the GOP presidential primary, and both search terms enjoyed a brief upward bump.  When Romney dropped out of the race in early 2008, the use of these search terms subsided and remained flat until 2011.  When Romney declared his current bid for the presidency in June of 2011, searches for “Mormon” soared and remained high as he won the battle for nomination in the first half of 2012.  As we enter the fall of 2012, searches for “Mormon” have reached at an all-time high.  The search term is currently five times more popular than it was in 2010.

 

Might the surge in “Mormon” searches reflect something other than the Romney candidacy?  Perhaps people are looking for tickets to the Broadway show Book of Mormon?  It’s possible, but other evidence points to a link to the Romney candidacy.Let’s take a closer look at Google searches during the GOP nomination battle, focusing our attention on the period before April 10th, when Rick Santorum exited the race.   The Y-axis shows the volume of searches (weighted by each state’s population), and the X-axis shows how close a state is to holding its primary election.  The pattern shows that as Election Day nears, residents of states holding elections become more likely to search for “Romney” and for “Mormon.”  After the election, searches subside.

The bottom line is that politics plays a pedagogic function.  It is sometimes quipped that foreign policy crises cause Americans to become acquainted with world geography.  In much the same vein, the nomination of a presidential candidate with a Mormon religious background has prompted vast numbers of Americans to seek out information about this religion and its adherents.


[1] One feature of the data from Google Trends is that the volume of searches is given in relative terms as scaled by Google. The scaled volume ranges between 0 and 100 with 100 representing the highest amount of search volume. The other values reflect the search volume relative to that high-water mark.  The scale used here is relative to searches for “Republican.”


{ 8 comments }

Thomas October 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

John Kerry is Catholic as well.

Don Green October 1, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Dumb omission on my part. Thanks for the correction.

Karla Brandau October 3, 2012 at 9:47 am

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I must say that we as members welcome the unprecedented opportunities this campaign has given us to tell those who have never heard of the Mormons what our core beliefs are. They are genuinely surprised to find we have many common beliefs.

We invite those who want to learn more to go to Mormon.org.

Adano October 3, 2012 at 11:19 am

Karla, I’m not sure you should speak for all Mormons. I’m one too, and frankly I hope people don’t judge us all based on what they see Romney doing and saying.

Rob Lauer October 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

There are many different denomonations of Mormonism besside the Utah-based LDS Church.
For instance there’s the Community of Christ (RLDS) in Independence, Missouri–which over a century ago the Supreme Court ruled was legally the original church formed by Joseph Smith in New York in 1830.
There’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints–Strangeite, which was the second largest denomination of Mormonism for the first few decades after Joseph Smith’s death,
Besides the FLDS Church, there are many Mormon dcnominations that embrace Polygamy–such as the Apostolic United Brethren in Wyoming (the denomination to which the family on TLC’s show “Sister Wives” belong.
And in recent years internet social networks have led to the formation of newer more liberal denominations of Mormonism–such as Reform Mormonism (www.reformmormonism.org)

Raymond Takashi Swenson October 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm

All of the other groups that have historical ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake city and with 14 million members worldwide, 6 million in the US, with the Salt Lake Temple that is the icon of the Mormonism, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir–those other folks total less than 500,000 people as far as I can tell, most of them in the Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized LDS Church). The lawsuit referred to concerned claims to ownership of certain parcels of land in Ohio and Missouri, which the LDS Church based in Utah was not using at the time. On the other hand, the Church of Christ Temple Lot (the Hedrickites) have held title to the parcel that Joseph Smith selected for the temple to be built in Jackson County in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. The Community of Christ over the last two decades has abandoned much of its distinct Mormon heritage, including asking its members to believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture and the Word of God alongside the Bible, and the belief that Joseph Smith was actually a prophet of God. It had been founded on the premise that the sons of Joseph Smith should succeed him at the head of his church, but that matter of descent was abandoned two decades ago.

As for the alleged Reform Mormons, I have not seen any evidence that they are anything beyond a few blogs, or actually own any real estate as an organization. It is not that clear to me why they shouldn’t just join the Community of Christ, which has abandoned real faith in distinctive Mormon beliefs but has real buildings and congregations that worship together.

Raymond Takashi Swenson October 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Personally, everything I know about Mitt Romney indicates that he is an exemplary Mormon who has acted as a Christian in his service to others, putting his family and church community ahead of making more wealth for himself. He has given away millions of dollars of his money, EVERY YEAR. He has done personal service for people without fanfare. I have not seen him bad mouth other Mormons, as Harry Reid has done.

The story of the daughter of Romney’s business partner, robert Gay, shows his character. Gay’s teenage daughter had gone with friends to a rave party in New York, and had not come back. Romney shut down Bain Capital operations and took all the employees to New York to search for the girl. they did a massive effort of handing out flyiers offering a reward for information, talked to teh police and hired a private detective. Finally one of the kids called to ask about the the reward, and the call was traced to a house where the girl was dying of a drug overdose. Mitt Romney literally saved her life, by putting her interests above making money. Barack Hussein Obama has never demonstrated that kind of personal sacrifice for another human being. And I challenge the critics of Romney’s character to demonstrate that they can match him in any way for unselfish personal concern about other people.

Daniel Nichols October 14, 2012 at 11:56 am

The real issue about Mormonism is what they teach about Jesus Christ. A Christian is someone who believes Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day, is fully God now and before his birth and will return to judge the world. Most Mormons believe Jesus was a spirit-child before his birth and became the Son of God for the purpose of dying on the cross. Mormons also believe all of us are spirit-children before our births and can become gods like Jesus through good works and following Jesus’s example.After death Christian believe they will worship the one and only God manifested as Jesus, the Father and the Spirit.Mormons teach there are and will be many gods after death and Jesus is our Elder-brother. No wonder the press were not allowed into Sunday School where they would unfold this teaching.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: