Polls suggest U.S. evangelicals support still fluid
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was their champ in Iowa, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did well with them in Michigan, and the latest Pew poll shows Huckabee in a narrow lead for their affection ahead of a fourth rival Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Conservative evangelicals, a key Republican base, have still not quite unified around one single presidential candidate — leaving the party’s White House nomination up for grabs.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, which involved the polling of over 1,500 adults from Jan. 9-13, found that among conservative evangelical Republicans, Huckabee had the edge with 33 percent versus 25 percent for McCain. Romney was fourth with just 12 percent.
But in Michigan where Romney — a native son to the state — had a thumping victory on Tuesday night, some exit polls suggested he even edged ahead of Huckabee, who came in third overall, for their support.
Huckabee’s victory in Iowa was largely attributed to his connection with evangelicals there — but that was a state where many voters got to see the candidates in person and so was tailor-made for the Baptist preacher’s folksy style, which goes down well with the church-going crowd.
What do all of these polls suggest?
“I would say this suggests that Huckabee still has work to do,” said the Pew’s Scott Keeter.
“McCain is regarded as a very conservative candidate. The evangelicals, while they do value the religious dimension they share with Huckabee, have a social conservatism that is very consistent with McCain’s on the issue of abortion. He’s not out of step with them on a range of issues,” he said.
McCain’s Vietnam war-hero status and tough-guy talk and experience in areas of national security also resonate with many evangelicals — and he has the lead in most polls of South Carolina, which holds a crucial “first-in-the-South” Republican primary on Saturday.
But count on Huckabee to make a big bid for the substantial evangelical vote there.
— Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Romney campaigning in South Carolina), Rebecca Cook (Huckabee during a campaign stop in Michigan on Tuesday).