Two More Wins: Evangelicals Again Pick Rick Santorum

BY Lucas Grindley

March 13 2012 10:15 PM ET

Rick Santorum extended his string of successes into the Deep South on Tuesday with wins in Mississippi and Alabama. And exit polls show born-again and evangelical Christians continue to thwart Mitt Romney while helping his opponents.

Where Romney has won, fewer than half of voters are evangelical Christians, according to a review of exit polls conducted by Edison Research for the networks and major media outlets such as the New York Times. In New Hampshire, just 22% said they were evangelical; in Florida, 47%; in Nevada, 28%; in Massachusetts, 16%. In all of those places, Romney actually won the evangelical vote.

Romney won close contests in Arizona, Michigan and Ohio while losing the evangelical vote to Santorum. But in all of those states, evangelicals made up less than 50% of voters.

That wasn't the case in Mississippi or Alabama, where more than 80% of voters said they were either born-again or evangelical Christians. Gingrich rivaled Santorum among these voters, but Santorum still won by four points in Mississippi and five points in Alabama.

"We did it again," Santorum declared in a victory speech from Louisiana on Tuesday night.

The truth is it's been difficult to see exactly what Santorum has been doing to win. Most of his success came from places without entrance or exit polling. None were conducted in the three states — Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri — that Santorum won in a surprising sweep in February. There are also no numbers out of North Dakota or Oklahama from Super Tuesday. And none were reported from Kansas' caucuses this weekend.

What numbers are available via Edison Research show that born again and evangelical voters are making a difference.

Iowa launched Santorum's campaign, with 57% of voters there identifying as evangelical. He won 32% of their vote, compared to Romney's 14% and Gingrich's 14%. The high-profile endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats and the conservative Iowa Family Leader came at the last minute and could have signaled a consolidation of social conservatives behind Santorum that has lasted throughout the race. Weeks later, Santorum famously won the endorsement of more than 150 evangelical leaders who met in Texas during the South Carolina primary to try and unify behind an alternative to Romney.

In Tennessee, 76% of all voters were self-described born-again or evangelical Christians. And Santorum won those votes 43% to Romney's 24%. Gingrich came in second there with 25%.

Evangelicals commanded the vote in Gingrich's states — South Carolina and Georgia — and continued Romney's losing streak in places where evangelical Christians comprise more than half of voters.

In South Carolina, where 65% of voters were born again or evangelical, they bought into Gingrich's argument that he was the viable alternative to Romney. Gingrich won 44% of that vote compared to 22% for Romney and 21% for Santorum. In Georgia, 68% of voters were evangelical, and they chose Gingrich in his home state. He won 51% of the vote to Santorum's 24% and Romney's 19%.



















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