Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Is this the message Mormon women need to hear regarding politics?

By Kali Smith           
Mitt Romney’s run for the U.S. presidency clearly brought the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) onto the national stage. Yet Romney is not the first Mormon to stand in the political spotlight. Names such as Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch, and Ezra Taft Benson come to mind. But can you think of any female Mormon politicians? 

Only one LDS female has been elected to U.S. political office. In 1981, Paula Hawkins was elected as a senator from Florida. For a church that heavily values the role of women, its female members are extremely underrepresented in politics. In fact, Utah is 45th in the nation in regards to the percentage of women serving in political positions.[1] Perhaps the church’s focus on traditional family roles exacerbates this gender gap in political participation. Do LDS women view their role as mothers in the home as incompatible with political participation? Is this the message they feel they are getting over the pulpit? 

Before individuals will participate in politics, they need to feel that their involvement will matter, or in other words have a high level of political efficacy.[2] Little has been written about the effect of religious socialization on political efficacy, but one study suggests that political efficacy increases for African Americans when they are exposed to political cues from their religious leaders.[3] This group is highly distinctive in their religiosity, as are the members of the LDS church. Would Mormons respond similarly to political cues from their religious leaders? Particularly, are LDS women more likely to participate in politics if they hear from the pulpit that they are needed? 

The results from a survey experiment show that, among LDS females, political efficacy increased when respondents were presented with a quote regarding political participation versus one about family responsibilities from the First Presidency (the highest and most influential authority in the church). Looking at those who received the family responsibility quote, only 31% of respondents had a high level of efficacy. Alternatively, the percentage rose to 56% among those who received the political participation quote. 

Taking an even closer look, responses to the statement “I feel my participation is a necessary part of the political process” also suggests that efficacy changes depending on the message LDS women receive. About 20% of respondents who received the family responsibility quote strongly agreed with the above statement, compared to nearly double that amount (39%) among those who received the political participation quote. 

While people may debate about whether or not politics should be discussed in religious settings, these findings suggest that for LDS females their level of political efficacy increases if they hear from the First Presidency that their participation in politics is important. If this is true, then more emphasis on the need for LDS women to be involved in politics could potentially increase their level of political participation and in turn narrow the gender gap. It also suggests that the effect of religious socialization on political efficacy and participation should be more widely studied.

[1] Phillips, Tyson. 2013. “Group: Utah Needs More Women in Office.” The Salt Lake Tribune.
[2] Fox, Richard L., and Jennifer L. Lawless. "To run or not to run for office: Explaining nascent political ambition." American Journal of Political Science 49.3 (2005): 642-659.
[3] Brown, Ronald, and Monica L. Wolford. 1994. "Religious resources and African American political action." National Political Science Review 4: 30-48.

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