White evangelical Protestants, that key Republican demographic, are on everyone’s mind as the Iowa caucus moves closer and closer. But as I, and Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director, write in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, evangelicals are far from throwing their collective support behind one candidate. While this isn’t likely to mean that evangelicals will swing over to Barack Obama, their lack of enthusiasm could be a serious hurdle for whichever hopeful emerges as the Republican nominee:
[E]vidence of evangelical discontent abounds. Recent polling by Public Religion Research Institute shows that of the five top-performing candidates, only two — Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney — are viewed favorably among white evangelical voters. And only a slim majority of white evangelical voters have a favorable view either of the thrice-married Gingrich (53 percent) or the Mormon and formerly pro-choice Romney (52 percent). The other top candidates fare much worse. Nationwide, no more than one-third of white evangelical voters have a favorable opinion of Paul (33 percent), Bachmann (33 percent) or Perry (31 percent).
These lackluster favorability numbers for Gingrich and Romney do not compare well to white evangelicals’ historical favorability numbers for Republican presidential candidates in the last two elections. As the 2004 campaign was beginning in earnest, white evangelical voters were solidly behind President George W. Bush, with nearly 8-in-10 holding a favorable view (Pew Research Center, February 2004).