Thursday, January 17, 2008

Romney’s Michigan Showing Adds Complexity to Evangelical Vote

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Three states down, three different results among evangelical voters for the Republican presidential candidates.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won a plurality of evangelicals (34%) in Michigan, despite some reservations within the community about his Mormon religion. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee placed second (29%) and Arizona Sen. John McCain third (23%) among evangelicals.

After Huckabee’s convincing win among evangelicals in Iowa (he took 46%) and the three-way tie among evangelicals in New Hampshire, Romney’s showing is evidence that no candidate has a lock on the evangelical vote.

It also suggests that while evangelicals hold to uniting theological themes, there is limited uniformity in how evangelicals apply their faith to politics and choosing a particular candidate.

Evangelicals were a larger part of the electorate in Michigan (39%) than in New Hampshire (24%), but a smaller percentage than in Iowa (60%). South Carolina will be the next test case for the evangelical vote on Saturday.

Eight years ago, the exit poll asked primary voters if they were part of the “religious right.” First of all, what does “religious right” even mean? Second, surely there were evangelicals in 2000 who did not consider themselves part of the “religious right,” but we don’t know how many. Unfortunately, that’s the only vaguely similar question we have in analyzing potential evangelical percentages in upcoming Republican primaries.

In 2000, one-third of the Republican primary voters in South Carolina said they were part of the “religious right,” a slightly smaller percentage than similar voters in Iowa that year (37%). If that trend still exists today, it would poke a hole in the theory that South Carolina is full of uber-conservative evangelicals ready to deliver the state for Huckabee.