Provo, Utah, does the Fourth of July right.
The celebration kicks off July 1st with an early morning hot-air balloon launch. From there it’s Freedom Days, patriotic 5K’s, and the well-attended (300,000 spectators) Grand Parade. Festivities last all through the weekend, from as early as 6 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m. And, let’s not forgot, in the middle of it all: Utah’s Stadium of Fire. One of the United States’ largest fireworks display and Fourth of July celebrations, over 40,000 people attend the event, with one million more tuning in through the American Forces Network.
Provo is home to Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University; it’s a young Mormon mecca with an 89% LDS population. When it comes to LDS patriotism, Utah senator Mike Lee once said, “Mormons have an extra chromosome.”
But, once you strip away the fireworks, parades, and mandatory ward barbecues, you have to wonder… Are Mormons truly patriotic?
Most Republican, Most Patriotic
In 2015, Pew Research declared Mormons the “most reliable Republicans.” With 70% of Latter-day Saints affiliating with the Republican party, Mormons lean more heavily to the right than any other group, including evangelical Protestants. Brigham Young University political science professor, Quinn Monson, was not surprised by the study results, but he noted, “What is surprising is [Mormons] have been getting more Republican in recent years in terms of their voting behavior.” Not only are Mormons very Republican, they’re becoming more Republican.
While fervent political alignment alone does not indicate patriotism, coupled with a study done by Harvard University, it might. In 2011, Harvard researchers found the Republican party the most inclined to patriotism of all the major parties. “The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century,” observed Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor David Yanagizawa-Drott and Bocconi University assistant professor Andreas Madestam.
Latter-day Saints are also seen as extremely politically active, holding a large number of high-profile government positions (Harry Reid, Mitt Romney), and matriculate at high rates into organizations like the FBI and CIA. Mormonism is even sometimes referred to as “The American Faith,” since it was founded on American soil.
An Inspired Nation
Mormon patriotism goes beyond hot-air balloons and fireworks, it’s deep in the doctrine. We believe the Lord “established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose.” Our forefathers were inspired by God to bring onto this continent a new nation, “conceived in liberty” and designated for the building up of Zion, the New Jerusalem.
Even historians such as Barbara Tuchman, stand in awe of the political and intellectual capacities possessed by the founding fathers. In her book March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, Tuchman writes,
“Around [George Washington] in extraordinary fertility political talent bloomed as if touched by some tropical sun. For all their flaws and quarrels, the Founding Fathers have rightfully been called by Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., ‘the most remarkable generation of public men in the history of the United States or perhaps of any other nation.’ “
It seems then in our nature, as Latter-day Saints, to possess this unbridled love for the chosen land….
Where My Voters At?
The problem with patriotism is there’s no definitive way to measure it. If you’re measuring it in fireworks, parades, and public perception, then yes, Latter-day Saints are extremely patriotic. But when it comes down to voter turnout, Mormon-heavy states like Utah and Arizona rank in the bottom 20. Even when Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, and Utah had a “good” voting year, it was still ranked at 13th worst with a 55.4% turnout — still better than it’s 28.8% in the 2014 general elections. Arizona weighed in with the worst voter turnout of any state in 2012, and slightly better than Utah in 2014, but still below the national average.
What makes a patriot? Is it voter turn out? Political involvement? Civil involvement? Fireworks displays?
If nothing else, maybe we all love the Fourth of July because it’s one less Family Home Evening to plan.