What a national survey reveals about Latter-day Saints and their communities

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Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have far deeper feelings of community trust and connection than other religious groups, according to a recent American Enterprise Institute national survey on community satisfaction, safety and trust.

Published Oct. 20 by AEI’s Survey Center on American Life, the report — titled “Public Places and Commercial Spaces: How Neighborhood Amenities Foster Trust and Connection in American Communities” — finds that 72% of Latter-day Saints say they feel at least somewhat connected to their community.

Also, Latter-day Saints are far more likely than other religious groups to believe their neighbors are willing to help in times of trouble.

Daniel Cox — the center’s director and founder and an AEI senior fellow in polling and public opinion — shared with Church News a closer look at survey findings representing Church members.

“What we see in the survey is that Latter-day Saints demonstrate a remarkable degree of social cohesion,” said Cox, adding that it’s “exceedingly difficult” to find a Latter-day Saint who has no close connection to someone who shares his or her faith. The survey shows that 90% of Church members say they have not just acquaintances but very close friends within their own faith community.

More than half of Latter-day Saints spend time at least once a week with fellow Church members outside of formal worship services. “You don’t actually see that to this degree across a lot of other religious traditions, so that’s remarkable,” said Cox of the social interactions.

In an American Enterprise Institute national survey on community satisfaction, safety and trust published in Oct. 20, 2021, Latter-day Saints expressed the strongest connection to their communities.

Such social engagement among Latter-day Saints is often facilitated by those living relatively close to their places of worship. “We found that more than two-thirds — 68% — are within a 10-minute drive, and that 1 in 3 can even walk there,” he said. “Again, that’s much more than any other religious tradition.”

Cox also underscored how well Latter-day Saints know their neighbors — beyond just names and occupations — and he pointed to a survey question asking respondents if they knew the politics of their neighbors.

“A lot of people rightfully and understandably don’t know the whole politics of the people who live around them, but Latter-day Saints — 90 percent — said they knew the political leanings of the people who live in their neighborhoods,” he said, adding that as many as a quarter to a third of those in other religious groups can’t say the same.

Under the heading of “neighborly trust and connection,” the AEI report says “religious identity and involvement are strongly associated with community attachment” and cites that 72% of Latter-day Saints feel at least somewhat closely connected to the people who live within their community. That includes 24% who say they feel very close.

The breakdown of other religious groups and percentages that feel at least somewhat connected include white Catholics, 62%; white mainline Protestants, 61%; Jews, 58%; and white evangelic Protestants, 57%. Less than half of Hispanic Catholics (48%) and Black Protestants (48%) say the same, while only 41% of religious unaffiliated Americans say they feel connected to their neighbors.

Across religious traditions, Americans reporting higher levels of religious participation feel more attached to their communities and the people in them, with 58% of adults who are members of a local worship organization feeling close to their neighborhoods, compared to 46% for those who are not members.

A recent study published Oct. 21, 2021, by the American Enterprise Institute showed that individuals who had high religious participation also felt more attached to their communities and the people in them.

Similarly, Americans who attend religious services at least once a week acknowledge greater neighborhood attachment than those who never attend — 62% to 40%.

While many Americans feel a lack of connection to their neighbors, 80% of the respondents say their neighbors would be very willing (27%) or fairly willing (53%) to help others in their area.

Overall, the national survey of 5,058 adults across the United States shows pandemic-prompted economic and social disruptions in cities across the country, with a majority of Americans preferring life in the suburbs and rural areas, opting for personal space over more amenities offered in urban neighborhoods.

Other survey sections focused on community safety and feelings of security; safety of drinking water; trust in law enforcement, police funding and support for community policing; feeling welcome in one’s own neighborhood; local decision-making; political communities; community news and engagement; and neighborhood amenities and schools. Results included breakdowns according to race and ethnic groups, religion and other socioeconomic factors.

According to the report, nearly half of Latter-day Saints — 45% — say people living in their area would be very willing to help their neighbors, the highest among the religious groups and those unaffiliated with religion.

In a section titled “Community Leaders,” the AEI survey asked respondents if they personally know someone in their communities who will take on an informal role coordinating activities and events and connecting people in the neighborhood. Overall, 37% said they did, while 63% said they did not.

The survey report acknowledged that few differences from that response were evident across religious traditions — with the exceptions of those of the Latter-day Saint and Jewish faiths, who “are unique among religious Americans in their connections to community leaders.”

Alayna Matyas from the Tall Cedars Ward, Gainesville Virginia Stake, participates in a service project at a local community farm as part of her ward’s service art project which included 10,000 acts of service. | Credit: Greg Matyas

A majority of both — 58% of the Latter-day Saints and 53% of the Jewish participants — say they personally know someone who is engaged in organizing social activities and events in the neighborhood.

The AEI survey questioned what affects how Americans rate their communities, finding that one major driver is formal and informal social capital. “Formal engagement in religious and community organizations, such as volunteering regularly, elevates people’s views of where they live and how they see the future,” the report stated. “So does simply interacting informally with friends and neighbors.”

The relationship between faith and community satisfaction is especially pronounced in this area, the report continued, with 40% of Americans who report going to religious services more than once a week rating their communities as excellent, compared to 29% who seldom attend and 25% who never do.

A similar pattern is evident in belief that the communities will improve over the next five years and — 40% for the religiously observant, 31% for those who seldom attend and 30% for those who never attend.

The survey is the second in a series of three annual surveys looking at various facets of American life and trying to understand different dynamics, Cox said. Last year’s focused on social networks — the influences of family members and friends. Next year’s will be on the changing dynamics of family life in the country, such as marriage status and number of children.

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