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Who Are Mormons?

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On Tuesday, over 56 percent of voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary election cast a vote for a Mormon.

Both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., (who finished first and third respectively in the N.H. primary) are Mormons, the common name for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Even as the two of them soldier on in the battle for their party's presidential nomination, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life has just released the first-of-its-kind national study on Mormon attitudes, beliefs and practices.

The Pew Forum study confirms many stereotypes about Mormons. So, for example, the study found that self-identified Mormons tend to be conservative, optimistic churchgoers who place a premium on family life.

But the study also provides subtle and important insights into Mormonism that might surprise.

Whereas many Americans seem uncertain about whether to classify Mormonism as a Christian religion, there is no question among Mormons themselves. When asked, Mormons volunteer the word "Christian" more often than any other word as the best descriptor of their religion. Indeed, 97 percent of Mormons identify Mormonism as a Christian religion.

And although most Mormons feel that an essential part of what it means to be a good Mormon is to believe in Mormonism's 19th century revelatory founding (80 percent), they also believe in overwhelming numbers (73 percent) that an essential and defining characteristic of Mormonism is caring for the poor.

Whereas many non-Mormons still freely associate Mormonism with polygamy --a practice disavowed by the LDS Church more than 120 years ago -- the Pew Forum study demonstrates that among Mormons, polygamy is an unquestionable moral wrong. Indeed, Mormons express moral distaste for polygamy in greater numbers than they do of other doctrinally frowned upon practices such as extramarital sex or abortion.

Today, the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah launches a five-part series that explores what this path-breaking research says about an increasingly visible, but still largely misunderstood religious minority. Come explore what researchers and journalists are saying today about Mormons in America.