Was Republican support thanks to polygamy?

I just finished Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History and towards the final chapters of his book he discusses the Reed Smoot affair.   In looking at the chapter one of the things Van Wagoner does is to link the change in the LDS voting patterns with the resolution of the Polygamy question and the creation of the State of Utah. (1)

So examining this issue I have examined the voting record of Utah in Presidential elections since 1896.  Here is what I found.

In 1896 Utah voted for the Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan.  After that year the Democratic Hegamony only returned in the 1930s.  From 1932 to 1948 the State of Utah voted for FDR and Truman.  (Though they did vote once for Wilson in 1916)

However, after 1948 Utah has only voted once for a Democrat for President – Lindon B. Johnson in 1964.  So does this mean that there was something else in play rather than the Polygamy issue which stuck Utah in the Republican camp?  Looking at the Governors of Utah casts doubt on this argument.  

Since statehood the Governor has been 10 times Republican and 6 times Democrat.  This does not say an overwhelming switch on the part of the general public in Utah.  So taking all of this into account why did Utah, and Mormons in the United States predominately come to vote Republican? 

Harry Reid recently blamed it on Ezra Taft Benson but like so many other things in life it is not as simple as that.  Utah did not turn Republican over Abortion as they were voting Republican for years before Roe v Wade.  They did not do it because of social programs as they voted for LBJ and FDR.   So why did the Church become so transfixed by the Republican party in the 1950s and stay generally in that corner?


(1) Richard D. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, Second Edition, (Salt Lake: Signature Books), 1989, 153-155.

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One Response to Was Republican support thanks to polygamy?

  1. David G. says:

    Although I’m not an expert in the period, my understanding is that the conservative shift in Utah started from the pulpit and gradually shifted to the pews. Heber J. Grant and J. Rueben Clark were both vocally anti-New Deal. Clark was ETB’s mentor, and as such was influential in ETB’s anti-communist stance. As you note it took a couple of decades for the body of Mormon voters to start voting to the right, but I believe that this shift was greatly influenced by vocal leaders.

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