Romney's Mormon Generation Gap

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets some of the 10,000 supporters as he departs the stage after a rally with his running mate Paul Ryan at the Augusta Expoland in Fishersville, Oct. 4, 2012.

At first glance, Jenna Christensen is hardly unique: a recent college graduate, a 20-somethiing eager to vote for President Obama – and against Mitt Romney.

"He doesn't share the same ideals that I do," Christensen says of the Republican presidential nominee.

And yet, unlike many if not most of the president's young supporters, Christensen admits there will be a moment of celebration if the candidate who does not get her vote wins.

"I don't want him to win," she said. "But if he does, it's going to be at least cool for my Mormon heritage to have a Mormon president. I think it is exciting for Mormons. We've been marginalized so much in history."

There you have it. Yes, the Mormon faith – officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – is not immune to America's political generation gap.

Although the vast majority of Mormons identify themselves as Republican, the younger generation is not necessarily voting with their parents. In this election, religion is not the driving force behind at least some of the Mormon youth vote.

According to a recent Gallup poll, More than 84 percent of registered Mormon voters plan to vote for Romney. "A lot of that is tribal. They are going to vote for someone that's in their tribe," says Mathew Bowman, author of "The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith."

But within the younger generation of Mormons, there's been a significant cultural shift. "Through the 1980s, the church was fairly culturally insular and pessimistic about American society," Bowman told ABC News. "In the beginning of the 1990s, we saw a new period of cultural openness within Mormonism. The tone was set by the man who became president of the church in the mid-90s who rejected the cultural pessimism. This president said, 'No, we need to be more open. We need to embrace America. We need to be more optimistic about the future."

"A lot of younger Mormons—those born in the last twenty years—really grew up in that environment," says Bowman. "They feel at home in America. While their parents tend to be social conservatives, these younger people are less so. They are more culturally comfortable in the United States, and many of them tend to be more liberal."

And ready to seek a voice in politics – a more diverse voice than you might have imagined.

An Undecided Voice:

David Romney shares the GOP nominee's faith and his last name. But he is undecided as Campaign 2012 enters its final month.

"We do have those two things in common," says David Romney. But that's not enough. "What's more important are his policy stances," said Romney, who is not related to the former Massachusetts governor. "That is what's going to make the difference for me as a voter."

As president of the student chapter of BYU's Political Affairs Society, David Romney says Mormons have a "wide variety of political views." From what he observes on campus, there are many young people on both sides of the spectrum who want to get involved in the political sphere. "But having a Mormon running for president is not shaping those people's views."

A Democrat's Voice:

Christensen, the Obama supporter who recently graduated from the University of Utah, admits Romney's faith "definitely" made her "take a second look at him" during the primaries. "Because of his faith, I listened to him a little closer than the other Republican candidates," she said. "But it's not a determining factor."

A Republican's Voice:

Greg Schroeder is voting for Romney, but not because of his faith. Like Romney, Schroeder served as a missionary in France. "I agree with his conservative values," he says. "But Mormonism is definitely secondary. It actually serves as somewhat of a barrier to me voting for him."

When it comes to a Mormon serving in public office, Schroeder wants them "to be the kind of person that would represent me indirectly in a positive way." For him, Romney does that. "But there are many Mormons who I would not want to represent me," admits Schroeder.

One Politically Neutral Church, Two Partisan Presidential Campaigns

The LDS Church has affirmed and reaffirmed its political neutrality in matters of partisan politics. Each election cycle, the highest governing body of the LDS church known as the First Presidency, sends a letter reaffirming the church's stance and encouraging members to cast their ballots, as citizens, for whichever candidate they believe will serve well.

Professor Carl Cranney, who teaches a Georgetown University course called, "Mormonism: A New World Religion," told ABC News: "For good measure, that letter this election cycle has been read twice in every Mormon congregation in the country."

But it's not only the church that walks a fine line, it's also the candidate.

A Private Faith In a Public Place:

Matthew Bowman says Romney "didn't want his campaign to become a national conversation about Mormonism." From the beginning, "I think Romney made a strategic decision that this was a battle he didn't want to fight--or didn't feel capable of fighting--and it was probably a wise one," says Bowman.

As Romney told ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, "I'm not running for pastor-in-chief. I'm running for commander-in-chief."

Mormons on Defense:

But running is running. From Provo to Portsmouth, questions about his faith have followed him along the campaign trail, and Romney did openly speak of Mormonism in his convention acceptance speech.

While some Americans may have questions, not all Mormons want Romney to further detail his religious views. "He has not and he should not," says David Romney. "The principal of separation between church and state is an important one."

Representing a small minority of the American population, Mormons are not exactly the targeted focus of either campaign.

Yet, the Mormon vote is an asset to Romney in western battlegrounds Nevada, where they make up 12 percent of the state's population, and Colorado, where they make up 2.8 percent. In the primaries, it was viewed as an obstacle with some evangelical voters.

As they watch the campaign, not all members of the LDS Church are thrilled about having their religion thrust upon the national stage, let alone the national political stage.

Professor Cranney suggests some uneasiness amongst Mormons about being so much in the public eye. "Mormons have a history of persecution, and though all the major persecutions happened well over a century ago, the remembrance of those persecutions still looms large in the LDS mindset."

So while perhaps thrilled Romney is the Republican nominee, many are also wary of their "deeply-held beliefs being mocked," explained Cranney.

Many LDS Church members don't think that clarifying personal religious views should be the role of a political candidate. David Rowberry, director of the Mormon Church's Washington, D.C., Institute of Religion, says, "it's up to the church and we who are members of the church to explain it to our friends."

Missing the "Mormon Moment"?

But still, some Mormons wish he'd done more. "It could have been his opportunity to share his beliefs and bring a more positive light to the religion," says Obama supporter Jenna Christensen.

Joanna Brooks, a national voice on faith in American life and author of "The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith," says, "Romney's been very guarded from the beginning. He has missed an opportunity to tell the Mormon story in a way that connects to other Americans."

A Publically Private Problem:

But perhaps that's just not in his DNA. Clayton Christensen, a member of the same Belmont, Mass., congregation and friend of the Romney family for more than 35 years, knows a person that few TV cameras have captured.

"Mitt doesn't talk about his personal experiences," says Christensen. "Not just in the political world but to the other members of the church. He is very private that way."

A Moment With 'Mr. Fix-It'

Many think America has missed its 'Mormon moment', but Clayton Christensen described a moment with Mitt that many Americans missed.

Shortly after graduating from Harvard Business School, Christensen recalled the first night in his new home. "It was a complete wreck," he said. "We'd stretch ourselves so far to buy the home that we had no money to hire tradesmen to fix the home."

Christensen had spent hours sanding the 40 year-old living-room floor. "It was 10 o'clock at night and we didn't even have curtains. So anybody who walked by could see everything we were doing inside. Mitt drove by and saw that I was on my hands and knees putting polyurethane on the floor. About 15 minutes later, he knocked on the door and said, 'Clay, there's a faster way to do this."

Mitt had gone home, grabbed a trough, three paintbrushes, two long sticks, duct tape and constructed his own makeshift tool. "In ten minutes, he'd finished my whole living room."

"That really characterizes who the guy is. He sees a problem. He goes out. He doesn't ask any questions. He doesn't ask permission. He just goes home, formulates the solution, brings it to me, and says, 'Clay, here's the way you need to do it.'"

So would a Romney White House work that way? "That's his instinct," said Christensen.

Maybe it's a Mormon Thing, Not a Mitt Thing:

Clayton Christensen isn't just a friend of Romney's. He's the author of "How Will You Measure Your Life" and named 2011's most influential business thinker in the world. But he does not measure Mitt's character solely by his time as Massachusetts governor, at Bain Capital or in the Mormon Church. He measures it from experience.

"If you look at his history, he really has shown that he can pull people together who are at each other's throats, put them around a room and get them to leave with an agreement and with a feeling like they did the right thing," says Christensen, recalling the negotiations during his time working at Bain. "I can't imagine a better negotiator or go-between than Mitt Romney."

As David Rowberry sees it, "They often say sometimes businessmen aren't great campaigners but they make great presidents." It's the, "here's what we need to do," rather than the, "look at me, look at me, look at me," he says.

As America has come to see, that's just not Mitt's M.O. "That tends not to be who we are," explains Rowberry. "We work very hard. But we don't go stand out in the middle of the street and shout very well."

But perhaps it is less about the church, and more about the culture of the church. As Rowberry explains, "LDS culture teaches us to be frugal, to be self-reliant, to help those in need, but we are also taught to not make a big deal out of it."

Swimming Upstream:

So has not making a big deal out of his faith hurt him? "He's swimming upstream," says Matthew Bowman. "I don't know if there's much or anything an individual can do to dispel national uneasiness or national perceptions that Mormonism is odd."

Without a doubt, many Americans still have their qualms about the religion. A June Gallup poll found that Mitt Romney faces the same level of prejudice against his religion in this campaign as his father, George Romney, did in his 1967 bid for the White House. Recently, 18 percent of Americans said they would not support a well-qualified candidate for the presidency who happens to be a member of the LDS church.

But these facts and figures may not be as bad for Romney as they appear. Many people have likened the role of religion in the Romney campaign to Kennedy's 1960 bid for the White House. Despite 21 percent of Americans saying they would not vote for a Catholic for president, he won.

Back then, however, Catholics took up about 25 percent of the American pie, while Mormons today account for a sliver of roughly 2 percent.

Perhaps, as in 1960, Romney's focus on bigger issues like economic growth and jobs will trump the issue of religion. Romney is certainly betting on that. But moving the topic away from religion has been somewhat of a double-edged sword.

CEO Romney vs. Mormon Romney?

For Kathleen Flake, Professor of American Religious History at Vanderbilt University, Romney's faith was much more of an issue in the 2008 campaign. "I think the more you talk about something the less strange it becomes," she says.

"If anything," argues Flake, "people were expecting him to use his religion to show that he was in touch. But he hasn't been able to do that."

"Many of them want to vote for him," says Flake. "I think he's making it a little bit harder for them."

But many think his out of touch problem has much more to do with money than Mormonism. And certainly, ten thousand dollar bets and 47 percent comments haven't helped his case.

"From politics to pop-culture, there are plenty of prominent Mormons out there in the public eye who have been relatable," says Jenna Christensen. For her, the reason Romney isn't connecting is more so a result of him being "a privileged rich guy."

Mormons Knocking On Doors: This Time, With a Political Message:

Whether they are supporting Romney or President Obama, young Mormons active in the campaign say their missionary work translates naturally to politics.

"We Mormons, we have skills that we've gathered for knocking on doors and pestering people," said Robert Taber, national director of the Mormons for Obama Campaign, a group which is not officially aligned with either the church or the Obama campaign. "A lot of young Mormons are supporting Romney, just not all of them."

Get more pure politics at ABC News.com/Politics and a lighter take on the news at OTUSNews.com

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