January 12th, 2012
12:01 AM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – Nearly half of American Mormons say they face a lot of discrimination in the United States, though most also say that acceptance of their religion is on the rise, according to a major survey released Thursday.
The survey also found that a large majority of American Mormons think their countrymen are uninformed about their religion and don’t see Mormons as part of mainstream society, even as most Mormons also say the country is ready for a Mormon president.
“The survey creates a mixed picture for how Mormons see themselves,” said Greg Smith, senior researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which conducted the study. “On the one hand, many tell us they’re misunderstood and often discriminated against, recognizing the challenges of acceptance.
“But Mormons also seem to think that things are changing, that more Americans are coming to see Mormonism as mainstream,” he said.
The survey comes amid what has been called a “Mormon moment.”
Two of the Republican presidential candidates – Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman – attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The religion has also cropped up in big ways in popular culture, from the hit Broadway play “Book of Mormon” to the recent HBO series “Big Love,” about a fundamentalist Mormon family.
Mormons constitute about 2% of the American population.
The Pew survey found that 46% of American Mormons say they face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today, while six in 10 say their fellow Americans as a whole are uninformed about the LDS Church.
Two-thirds of Mormons say their fellow citizens do not view Mormonism as part of mainstream American society.
At the same time, 63% of Mormons say Americans are “becoming more likely to see Mormonism as part of mainstream society,” in the words of the survey report, while 56% say the country is ready for a Mormon president.
There are some surprising parallels between how Mormons feel about their place in American society and how Muslims do, according to an earlier Pew survey.
"We do see a remarkable degree of similarity about what it's like to be a minority in society," Smith said. "They are under no illusions" about how the broader public currently feels about them, and know their religions are not widely understood, but they remain optimistic at heart, he said.
They recognize the challenges, "but both groups are relentlessly positive about their future in the United States," said Luis Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum.
As Romney’s and Huntsman’s ability to win evangelical votes in the approaching South Carolina presidential primary has become a major question in the presidential campaign, the Pew survey finds that half of Mormons believe that evangelical Christians are unfriendly toward them.
In fact, Mormon and evangelical political opinions match closely on almost everything except immigration, the survey found. (Mormons are much more likely than evangelicals or the U.S. population overall to see immigrants as making a positive contribution to society, said David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame, who helped advise the Pew Forum on the survey.)
Mormons also subscribe to key tenets of mainstream Christianity, despite the sense many evangelicals have that Mormons are not Christians. Previous Pew surveys show that about half of white evangelicals say Mormonism is not a Christian faith.
"Nearly all Mormons say they believe Jesus rose from the dead and that Mormonism is a Christian religion," Smith said.
But the Mormon-evangelical divide is not simply one of theology, a leading evangelical said.
"Evangelicals are - famously or infamously, depending on your perspective - very evangelistic," said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. "And so Mormons are out there going door-to-door trying to convince folks to become Mormons, and evangelicals are out there going door-to-door trying to convince people to become evangelicals."
By comparison, most Mormons said that Americans who are not religious are either neutral or friendly toward them.
Mormons and evangelicals are politically similar, the survey found, with three-quarters of Mormons saying they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.
And the survey showed that Mormons are more devout in their faith than evangelicals, who are more devout that the public at large.
Three-quarters of Mormons report attending religious services at least weekly, while eight in 10 pray daily and give 10% of their income to their church.
The Pew Forum says the nationwide survey, conducted in October and November, constitutes the biggest survey of American Mormons conducted by an organization that’s not connected to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Pew surveyed 1,019 self-identified Mormons for the project.
CNN's Richard Allen Greene and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux contributed to this report.
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