Utah Up, Chicago Down: Why Mitt Romney Should Embrace His Mormonism


In his run for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney downplayed his Mormonism—referring only to “faith” or “shared values”—in the face of small-minded members of the Christian right and the occasional cackle from the Eastern cultural avant-garde. But with his party’s nod in hand, Romney has been “coming out” in the run-up to the Republican convention, letting pool reporters join him and his family at a church service, and even choosing a member of the church to deliver the invocation on the night he addresses the Republican convention.

The church’s appeal can be seen, in part, in the contrast between booming Utah and Salt Lake City and President Obama’s adopted home state of Illinois and hometown of Chicago.

Utah netted 150,000 new arrivals from other states in the last decade, while Illinois lost a net of 70,000 people each year to other states. And Utah’s new arrivals include more than Mormons returning to Zion; Salt Lake County is now only 54% Mormon. Twenty-six percent of the county’s residents are minorities, mostly Hispanic immigrants.

Romney himself reflects the enormous changes in the fast-growing and highly successful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the official name of the religion, since the church (which continues to have an all-male clergy), opened itself to black members in 1978. Mormons now enjoy levels of education and wealth well above those of the average American.  Some 53.5% of LDS males have a post–high-school education, compared to 36.5% of the total U.S. population. And 44.3% of LDS females have a post-high-school education, compared to a national average of 27.7%. More impressive still, unlike mainstream churches, Mormonism is thriving; the church membership in North America grew 45 percent over the past decade to more than 6 million members—roughly matching the number of American Jews

This is not Romney’s father’s—and certainly not his grandfather’s—LDS.

A recent Gallup survey ranked Utah first in terms of quality of life, in part because of its citizens’ “low smoking habits, ease of finding clean and safe water, having supervisors who treat workers like a partner rather than a boss, learning something new or interesting on any given day, and perceptions that your city or area are ‘getting better’ rather than ‘getting worse.’”

While Illinois competes with California for the nation’s worst credit ranking, Utah stands at the AAA apex. The job-growth rate in Salt Lake City and the state rank near the top while Chicago and Illinois have sunk relentlessly toward the bottom. Forbes recently ranked Utah “the best state for business and careers” for the second straight year; Illinois ranked 41st.

While Utah undoubtably owes some of its success to its low-tax, low-regulation culture, and to smart incentives to draw in businesses, it’s also benefitted from a Mormon culture that promotes not supply-side but investment-driven growth.

From its origins in the great Mormon migration in the late 1840s, the state and the church have built a legacy of careful planning. Brigham Young was many things, control freak and city planner among them, laying out the streets of the towns with exacting detail. The Mormons, wrote Wallace Stegner, a “gentile” who lived among them, “were the most systematic, organized, disciplined, and successful pioneers in our history.”

Today this legacy is evident in the excellent infrastructure the state is building, including new highways that shame the pot-holed roads that people on the coasts commonly endure. Utahans have invested mightily in their universities, public and private, and are positioning themselves to be major players in fields from energy and agriculture to composite manufacturing, science, and engineering. They are not merely waiting around to ransack the intellectual capital of other states; for the last two years the University of Utah has ranked No. 1 in forging startups, besting institutions like MIT and Columbia.

It is a bit distressing for a Californian to ride down Highway 15 south from Salt Lake City towards Provo and see buildings, often just finished, from some of Silicon Valley’s signature companies including Intel, Adobe, Twitter, eBay, and Fairchild Semiconductor. These are jobs that used to stay in California, but for a host of reasons—regulation and housing prices chief among them—have moved east to Utah.

And most of the former Californians I’ve met in Salt Lake like the place, even if they sometimes feel uncomfortable with the Mormon aversion to such habit as drinking. Over the past 30 years, the city has changed for the better. Good food now proliferates—even if the elegantly dressed young Mormons still don’t order wine, much less vodka. The local arts and culture scene has evolved to, if not world-class levels, at least those seen in other similarly-sized cities.

But what’s most impressive about Utahans may be their devotion to family. Although they make much noise about their dedication to “working families,” the Democratic Party increasingly relies on singles and the childless as its core base, particularly among white voters. In contrast, GOP-dominated Utah (which is largely white, but increasingly diverse) has the highest birth rate and youngest population in the nation. Families thrive there, including those who are not Mormon. It is almost like another America—one where most people raise their children, and push education and enterprise. If you’re getting deep into your 50s like me, you might remember that country.

True, Salt Lake City now has some high-rise residential areas and some local planners, largely from the University of Utah, who push “smart growth.” But the big growth along the Highway 15 corridor is mostly single-family home communities, affordable and large enough to accommodate several offspring. They seem a lot like the places Long Island and the San Fernando Valley once were.

Like the church around which it is built, the Mormon Zion in Salt Lake Valley has also changed. It has what may be the largest concentration of multilingual people in the country. With 55,000 missionaries at 340 mission sites across the globe, native English-speaking Mormons have learned more than 50 languages. Former Utah governor and Romney rival Jon Huntsman gained respectability—even among sophistos—for his fluent Mandarin.

On the business side, Mormons’ linguistic skills have attracted loads of big international companies, such as Goldman Sachs, who need people capable of conversing in Lithuanian, Chinese, or Tongese. Goldman has 1,400 employees in Salt Lake City, making it the investment bank’s sixth largest location in the world.

In contrast to the antediluvian nonsense sometimes expressed by right-wing evangelical Christians, the LDSers have become more cosmopolitan as their faith has expanded. Once a peculiarly American creed, with the vast majority of its faithful living in the Western United States, Mormonism has morphed into a global religion with over 11 million members—more than half of them outside the United States. Once narrowly white, the church’s biggest growth now is in Brazil, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands. Even in the U.S., converts have made for an increasingly diverse church, with blacks and Hispanics accounting for one in five new Mormons, according to Pew.

It's not likely that the church will be portrayed by the Obama campaign and its associated media outlets in this way. They also are sure to continue portraying millionaire Mitt as the greedy capitalist devil incarnate. Perhaps to avoid getting drawn into a discussion of his faith, Romney rarely mentions that he tithes 10 percent of his substantial income to support church activities. Such tithing, expected of all church members, helps explain why Utahans are easily the nation’s most charitable citizens, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy—contributing two and a half times more of their income than Illinoisans.

Yet most appealing about Mormons is their focus on self-help and community outreach, and the church’s highly structured and efficient relief organization—something Romney has never communicated well. Mormons are remarkable for their ability to rise to the occasion during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti.

“Mitt may not be Bill Clinton or Barack Obama—he’s a boring guy, but he’s not the jerk people think he is,” says Joe Cannon, the former publisher of the Deseret News, the church-owned paper. “When you are a bishop,” as Romney was in Boston, says Cannon, “you are running a huge welfare state on your own. You spend a lot of time helping the poorest and most dysfunctional congregants.”

In the end, Utah’s Mormon-created reality is bigger than one relentlessly ambitious man’s foibles and tax dodges; Mormonism is the enterprise that transformed a desert province into a productive garden. That’s the story that Romney needs to share between now and November. If he fails, we might see a more appealing Mormon, Jon Hunstman, remind us of this success story in 2016.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and contributing editor to the City Journal in New York. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in February, 2010.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Beast..

Mitt Romney photo by BigStockPhoto.com.

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Salt Lake City is a Success Story compared to Oregon under DLCD

I agree 100% with Dr. Kotkin about the LDS and their success in Utah. Salt Lake City has consistently ranked near the top of many surveys for economic vitality. The metro area wants to grow both in terms of population, and also attracting high tech companies. I visited Salt Lake City this spring, and was amazed with the economic growth, compared to cities in California and Oregon.

There was construction everywhere - offices, freeways, and even affordable single family housing. The market is committed to both traditional and alternative transportation. While they have light rail, they are also expanding I-15 to 12 lanes in a large area south of downtown.

The new scenic Legacy Parkway parallels I-15 north of town, and features an adjacent wetland preserve with bike trails. The metro area has a strong commitment to green infrastructure in many areas, maintaining large lots and planting trees, with a relatively low population density. Recreational amenities are only minutes away, and provide an incentive to those considering relocating to the metro.

Most importantly, in my view, is that there is no regional urban growth boundary, and home prices have been relatively stable compared to most areas in the Southwest. I do not think that the Dr. Arthur Chris Nelson's ideas of "smart growth" will succeed, since new people moving to the area want large homes with private backyards. There is plenty of land along I-15 from the Idaho Border to Central Utah for single family housing on large lots.

Dr. Nelson is Presidential Professor of Metropolitan City Planning at the University of Utah, and is famous for about 50 years of advocating smart growth principles (beginning with the DLCD in Oregon).

However, a DLCD system is absolutely not appropriate for a rapidly growing high tech state such as Utah, since it would stop economic growth from USTAR (http://www.innovationutah.com/). USTAR is the state sponsored investment in Science and Technology, that has helped bring high tech companies to Utah, and improved the state's fiscal condition.

Utah Rankings Superior to Oregon's on Praxis Strategy Group

Also, look at these impressive rankings for Utah, on the Enterprising States map on Joel Kotkin's Praxis Strategy Group. Click the mouse over any state, at this link, for the rankings -


- Utah -

#2 Export Growth
#2 Business Birth Rate
#3 Long-term Job Growth
#3 Short-term Job Growth
#3 Gross State Product Growth
#3 Growth in Share of National Exports
#3 Higher-ed Efficiency
#4 Export Intensity Growth
#4 STEM Job Growth
#5 Export Intensity
#5 Bridge Quality
#6 Tax Environment for Mature Firms
#6 Cost of Living
#6 College Affordability
#8 High-tech Share of All Businesses
#9 Broadband Provider Availability
#10 Tax Environment for New Firms
#10 Business Tax Climate
#10 Higher-ed Degree Output
#11 Road Quality
#14 Small Business Survival Index
#16 STEM Job Concentration
#16 Academic R&D Intensity
#17 High School Advanced Placement Intensity
#20 Broadband Speed Availability
#23 Median Family Income
#23 Entrepreneurial Activity
#23 Educational Attainment

Compare Utah's numbers to Oregon's poor performance, under punitive growth management, with urban growth boundaries, smart growth, and a high state income tax, below -

- Oregon -

#1 Productivity Growth
#2 Higher-ed Efficiency
#3 Gross State Product Growth
#22 Bridge Quality
#13 Export Intensity
#13 Business Tax Climate
#15 Gross State Product Growth
#15 STEM Job Concentration
#17 Broadband Speed Availability
#21 Broadband Provider Availability
#23 Road Quality
#23 Long-term Job Growth
#25 Business Birth Rate

Utah Ranks High among CEO's; Oregon Continues To Rapidly Decline

Also, chief executives in the 2012 Chief Executives Magazine survey for best / worst states for business continue to rank Utah high, whereas Oregon continues to decline (falling 9 points from 2011 to 2012, and as I recall, Oregon fell about 12 points from 2010 to 2011) -


- CEO Comments - Click on any state for demographic info and comments from CEO's -

“Texas and Utah actively support business development. New Hampshire is coming on strong. If they can ever institute “Right to Work” legislation, they could rise to number one.”

“Oregon, is a great place to start a business, but all successful businesses move out when the founder leaves. And so does he. The tax structure drives all movable wealth out of the state.”

”Oregon has taken the approach during the recession that since business tax revenues and personal tax revenues are down, it is not their job to help ease the burden and create easier competitive environment, but instead to increase taxes and regulatory fees to keep government in place. That attitude has crushed many businesses in Oregon and caused much of our customer base to leave the state.”

Arizona has mixed reviews. Indeed, Arizona has an office of "smart growth" and many cities practice punitive growth management with high impact fees. Flagstaff, Arizona / Coconino County = three urban growth boundaries.

“Arizona provides the best bottom line operating environment and the least regulation – so that business needs get met. It’s an overlooked west coast location.”

“Arizona only appears on the surface to be business friendly – for micro mainstreet businesses they appear to do their best to make it difficult to do business in this state – counties and cities are difficult to work around.”


All seriously religious people are delusional and likewise extremely scary.

Don't vote for this Romney thing if you know what's good for you.


As an evangelical Christian, I find much to admire in the Mormon church, including:
1. Their emphasis on family and discipling young people, especially their boys.
2. Their anticlericalism. Few if any professional ministers.
3. Some of their views regarding theology which line up with Open Theism. They correctly teach that Christianity lost its way early on with its acceptance and absorption
of Greek philosophy, a distinctive they need to hone and trumpet without apology or muddying up with wacky teaching.

However, they lose me on their wacky fringe theologies such as:
1. The idea that the eternal God was once a man and has a sexual wife and physical offspring.
2. The idea that believers also will become gods like the True God.
3. Their susceptibility to ongoing revelation and false prophets.
4. Their apparent rejection of the idea that Jesus Christ is "from the beginning," "by whom all things were created" given the "name above all names", the "I Am," "The Way, The Truth and the Life," not one of many offspring from the Father.

If they could purge the wacky stuff, they would be unstoppable.

Evangelicals often are "it"

Good points.

1) to 3) are true of many "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" Christian denominations, and they do not have the wacky ideas to go along with it.

It is worth finding the Encyclopedia of American Religion's entry for the "Fundamentalist" family of Christian denominations, and the anti-clerical teachings of Darby, which were picked up on by American evangelicals like Scofield and Moody.

There was a IMF paper recently, "Irrational Exuberance in Housing Markets: Were Evangelicals Left Behind", in which an extraordinary correlation is found between the proportion of evangelicals in the population, and the stability of the housing market. The influence in this factor is very similar in the case of Mormonism too. I think it is because these people regard nature as "God's provenance" and the idea of constraining the building of homes in new suburbs is anathema to them. (The IMF hypothesises that it is because these people are less speculative, but I like my explanation better).


He's Mormon...I'm just saying...Bad idea. No better way to alienate yourself from a "typical" American than to highlight some unusual religious belief. Nobody cares if Utah's unemployment rate is lower than Illinois. But they do care if you're associated with a religious culture that is okay with polygamy.

Some Mormons are Fiscal Conservatives yet also Socially Liberal

The official LDS Church no longer practices polygamy. There are a few small towns in the intermountain west and in Texas that still do. However, they are not part of the mainstream LDS Church, headquartered out of Salt Lake City.

If you want to go after the LDS for their religious beliefs, then this approach would be the same as criticizing Christian Fundamentalists, i.e. both groups think that homosexuality and gay marriage are sinful.

However, many Mormons are Democrats, such as Senator Harry Reid. Try to google search terms such as Mormons, Liberals, Gays, Gay Mormons, Environmentalists, and Feminists, and you will be surprised how many LDS are not social conservatives.

However, most LDS are Fiscal Conservatives, and that's why Utah has performed exceptionally well and attracted businesses from California.