Divide Deepens, Sharpest in SLC

The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 15, 2002

    A year after this newspaper’s groundbreaking Unspoken Divide project, quantifying for the first time in print the sometimes bumpy relations among faith-based communities in Utah, a second look and a new poll indicate overall progress was illusive in 2002.

   That, in spite of the Olympic experience and formal calls by churches and groups for a greater awareness and sensitivity toward acceptance of one another. While that effort was recognized by many respondents, more felt recent events had hardened positions.

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   The most significant change in the two surveys was a significant increase in the number of respondents who identified themselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and who say the divide is deepening. The figure jumped from 6 percent a year ago to 43 percent in 2002. Indeed, among those of other beliefs, 48 percent say the situation is worsening, compared with 17 percent last winter.

    The Valley Research survey of 600 adults on the Wasatch Front, commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune, found that 45 percent of the 2 in 3 Utahns who believe a divide exists say the divisiveness has deepened. Only 23 percent believe the situation has improved; 28 percent said it is the same; and 3 percent were unsure.

    Nearly 3 out of 5 Utahns, both Mormons and non-Mormons, believe the current fight over control of behavior on the Main Street/LDS Plaza has affected relations.

    Not surprisingly, Mormons are quicker to blame Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson’s stand, while non-LDS tend to point to the LDS Church’s hard line as the cause of problems. Around 2 in 5 of both demographic groups, however, describe the plaza issue as symbolic of a non-LDS frustration over the power and pervasiveness of the dominant LDS culture.

    Nowhere, though, is the divide more strongly sensed than in Salt Lake City, the epicenter of the 3-year-old plaza controversy.

    In the city, 78 percent of the non-LDS (a demographic representing just over half of the city’s population) and 72 percent of Mormons recognize a serious problem. More than 3 in 5 point to the plaza as fanning the flames.

    But the news media also are blamed by a third of the Wasatch Front respondents, as well as Salt Lakers themselves, for fueling the controversy.

    There are a couple of positive points in the survey. Mormon and non-Mormon alike see both sides equally responsible for the problems, and only 15 percent of LDS respondents who saw the divide deepening felt it was driven by anti-Mormon sentiment.

    The survey was conducted Dec. 2-6. The sample of 600 taken in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Summit, Tooele and Utah counties matches that of a similar survey taken a year ago and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

    The more targeted poll of 401 Salt Lake City residents, taken on the same date, carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

    Tribune-commissioned polls seek a respondent’s religious preference only when it is relevant to the topic.

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