The following statement (found at http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-
stories/first-presidency-issues-letter-on-political-participation) was issued by the First Presidency in September 2008:
As citizens we have the privilege and duty of electing office holders and influencing public policy. Participation in the political process affects our communities and nation today and in the future.
Latter-day Saints as citizens are to seek out and then uphold leaders who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest. Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties.
Therefore, in this election year, we urge you to register to vote, to study the issues and candidates carefully and prayerfully, and then to vote for and actively support those you believe will most nearly carry out your ideas of good government.
The Church affirms its neutrality regarding political parties, platforms, and candidates. The Church also affirms its constitutional right of expression on political and social issues.
Thomas S. Monson
Henry B. Eyring
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The First Presidency
(See also http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/
In the late 1800s, the majority of Latter-day Saints preferred the Democratic party, but in order to help prepare Utah for statehood, the Church encouraged members to participate in both major national parties. For various reasons, Church membership gradually drifted more to the Republican party, and those attitudes hardened during the 1970s and 1980s, when social issues such as abortion became prominent.
By the 1990s, Church leaders were concerned about the exclusive identity of the Church and the Republican party in many members' minds. According to A Disciple's Life (by Bruce Hafen), Elder Neal A. Maxwell encouraged a younger General Authority, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, to hold an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune to explain why he (Elder Jensen, who is a Democrat) believed being a Democrat was compatible with being a faithful member of the Church. The interview may be found HERE, HERE, or HERE (see also below).
Also during the 1990s, Gordon B. Hinckley, the president of the Church, made statements encouraging political diversity in the Church. (For instance, this one.) Unfortunately, such statements seem to have had little effect. In fact, at the time, Republican leaders in Utah tended to react with disbelief even to suggestions coming from Church leaders that faithful Church members could appropriately and enthusiastically support the Democratic party.
Now, things have gotten so bad in Utah that even many Republicans feel diversity is badly needed. I've talked to some prominent Republican leaders and have heard similar reports second hand. The excessive dominance of the Republican party in the Utah State legislature has led some to compare the Republicans in that institution to a "sick family."
In Utah County, where I live, the Democratic party has worked very hard over the past few years to let people know of its moderate stance, and the party has found a first-rate slate of candidates for various offices--many of them, I believe, clearly superior in qualifications and ability to their opponents. The Democratic candidates include former mission presidents and others whose Church credentials are unquestionable. I've met several of the candidates and am persuaded that, if only voters could get to know them, they'd be very impressed. But lacking that, many people will, unfortunately, vote for the Republicans simply because they are Republicans, and we'll be lucky to have even a single Democratic candidate elected.
The following are links that give more information on this sticky issue and also information on some of the candidates.
(1) An editorial I wrote on politics and religion (click the preceding link to see it or click here for an MS-Word document version).
(2) Elder Marlin K. Jensen's interview with the Salt Lake Tribune (which he was encouraged to do by other General Authorities, including Elder Neal A. Maxwell): available at http://www.utahcountydems.com/content/view/178, http://www.kevinashworth.com/ldr/268/gop-dominance-troubles-church, or http://ldslivingonline.com/article.php?articleId=79643. (By the way, during the current political season, Church leaders at the general level have not only encouraged members who are Democrats to run for office, but have encouraged them to make clear their Church affiliation and service and to emphasize the Church's political neutrality.)
(3) Senator Harry Reid on being a Mormon and a Democrat: http://english2.byu.edu/faculty/youngb/reid.pdf. (This is an address Senator Reid gave at BYU; the purely political stuff is near the end--and by the way, I was pleased that the political stuff was greeted with a combination of respect and generous laughter.)
(4) Reflections on being a Democrat in Utah (by Claralyn Hill, a former Republican who is now running for the Utah State Legislature as a Democrat): http://english2.byu.edu/faculty/youngb/being-a-democrat.htm. Her campaign site is http://www.voteforhill.org. You'll find a bit of what I've said about her by clicking here: "Claralyn Hill."
(5) Besides Utah County Democrats, Cache County Democrats have also decided to make it clear that many of them are faithful Latter-day Saints: http://www.cachedemocrats.org/about%20us/LDS_democrats.htm.
(6) My own inclinations are described below under Why I'm a Democrat (sort of)".
(7) How about McCain? Here's a link to "McCain and Mormons."
(8) And Romney? Many months ago, I wrote something in defense of Mitt Romney--not that he was my favored candidate, but I found the the antagonism toward him based on religion to be distressing. Here's what I wrote: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=4391
(9) Richard Bushman and national reporters at a Pew Foundation forum discussing politics and the LDS Church: http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=148.