Green Room

Romney and evangelicals, revisited

posted at 1:43 pm on March 15, 2012 by

It figures that days after considering whether there might be an anti-Mormon “Romney effect” in 2012, there would be fresh data from Michael Tesler at YouGov:

Media speculation abounds that Mitt Romney’s poor performance among Evangelical voters in the 2012 Primaries is rooted in anti-Mormonism—a sentiment that will surely intensify if the former governor loses this week in Alabama and Mississippi. My analysis of seven surveys conducted by YouGov from late January to early March 2012 (pooled n=7,000, with 1,791 likely Republican primary voters), however, suggests that Romney’s religion is not the main reason why he has not won over these voters.

***

Why, then, has Romney underperformed among this group throughout the primary season? The answer most likely resides in moral issues like abortion and gay marriage. For, unlike attitudes about Mormons, Evangelical Republicans are much more conservative on these issues than their fellow partisans. Moreover, and also unlike anti-Mormonism, Evangelicals are more likely to vote in the primaries based upon moral issues than other Republicans.

This is consistent with Erick Erickson’s January account of a meeting of prominent Christian conservatives — one which also suggests Team Romney played this all wrong (although Erickson is no Romney fan for a host of reasons):

If you are reading this from the media, I think the story you should tell is that Mitt Romney will probably become the nominee of the Republican Party with even less good feelings between evangelicals and him than John McCain had.

The problem for Team Romney is that the distrust of Romney is overwhelmingly about his record and shiftiness, but the Romney campaign fundamentally believes it is about his religion. When Team Romney concluded the pitch (read from an iPad seemingly without a passionate delivery) with an admonishment to not be an anti-Mormon bigot, it was game over. Several of the attendees felt like the Romney campaign was almost implying that they’d win without evangelicals and would expect everyone to line up when it was over even without Romney reaching out.

Erickson’s reference to John McCain is interesting, as ol’ Maverick also had a more difficult time with the evangelical vote than George W. Bush. Comparing the 2004 and 2008 exit polls, it appears evangelical turnout marginally increased — as it has for decades, due in large part to the rising socioeconomic status (.pdf) of the demo — from 23% to 26% of voters. However, Bush won 78% of white evangelicals, while McCain only won 73%. Overall, that’s a little over a percent of the electorate — which seems small, but which could matter in a very close election, depending on where those votes are located (it would likely be less significant a loss in Alabama or Mississippi than in Virginia, North Carolina or Georgia).

Of course, the exits are not detailed enough to explain the difference from ’04 to ’08, so it would be risky to assume McCain’s showing was all or even largely about evangelicals thinking he was insufficiently committed to social issues. Evangelicals care about those issues, but not all of them are single-issue voters. The economic meltdown of ’08 may well have played a role here. Moreover, it is possible that the larger youth vote in 2008 brought out young evangelicals who are less socially conservative than their parents. In these respects, the 2012 environment would likely be more favorable to Romney, should he become the GOP nominee.

The lesson here is that Romney should be able to make inroads with evangelicals if he becomes the GOP nominee. The question is whether he is up to the task. Maintaining his standard cool attitude about the campaign in this regard may make it tougher for someone perceived as inauthentic to build bridges with this demographic.

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How about they go for anti-marxism instead.

rbj on March 15, 2012 at 1:56 PM

This is consistent with Erick Erickson’s January account of a meeting of prominent Christian conservatives — one which also suggests Team Romney played this all wrong (although Erickson is no Romney fan for a host of reasons):

Erickson is full of it. I guess he’d rather have another four years of ObaMao because it’s good for his business.

cicerone on March 15, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Erickson is full of it. I guess he’d rather have another four years of ObaMao because it’s good for his business.

cicerone on March 15, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Though I am not a big fan of Erickson, your assessment is ludicrous at best. If that was true, then Limbaugh, Hannity, and others would also be hoping for Obama.

All of these people do well whether there is an R or D in office.

PuritanD71 on March 15, 2012 at 7:12 PM

Many an evangelical has felt cheat by Bush in his second term of office. They will also be hesitant to throw their support to a person who does not seem to have much of a moral compass in regard to the social issues.

PuritanD71 on March 15, 2012 at 7:14 PM

My emphasis below:

The problem for Team Romney is that the distrust of Romney is overwhelmingly about his record and shiftiness, but the Romney campaign fundamentally believes it is about his religion. When Team Romney concluded the pitch (read from an iPad seemingly without a passionate delivery) with an admonishment to not be an anti-Mormon bigot, it was game over. Several of the attendees felt like the Romney campaign was almost implying that they’d win without evangelicals and would expect everyone to line up when it was over even without Romney reaching out.

Exactly right. Romney thinks he can win without the committed support of the most passionate part of the Republican base. He either doesn’t understand or care that these voters want someone who genuinely agrees with them on issues like abortion. Romney thinks that mouthing a few platitudes and calling them anti-Mormon is enough. He reminds me of the Obama supporters who whip people into line by calling them racist. This election for most people will boil down to which of these candidates do you dislike the least.

Allah discussed Romney’s strategy yesterday in Romney: Very conservative voters might not be with me now but they will be in November.

Gladtobehere on March 15, 2012 at 7:18 PM

I live in the deep South and everyone I know says the same thing. They don’t trust Romney, they would much rather vote for someone else, but when push comes to shove they would vote for him in the general election. That is of course if he can at least try not to insult us.

dmn1972 on March 16, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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Allahpundit on March 17, 2012 at 12:02 AM

I consider myself as an evqangelical. Romney will never be my candidate due to his playing footsie with the gay community. Gay marriages in MA are his and his alone as he did not follow the state Constitution where it says only legislaturers make law. Not some activist judges -when he had the chance to do what was right he demanded the clerks to start issuing marriage licenses to gays.May still think these marriages are illegal. and I will never believe he is now pro life-he was running for electiona nd to get votes he suddenly became prolife-Please!

Bullhead on March 16, 2012 at 8:18 PM