December 16, 2011

Religion and the GOP Nomination Race: December Update

A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that Newt Gingrich currently holds a 35% to 21% lead over Mitt Romney among Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say they are very likely to vote in the GOP primaries or caucuses. Gingrich leads Romney by an even larger 25-point margin among white evangelical GOP voters who say they are very likely to vote in the primaries (35% to 10%). Among white mainline Protestants likely to vote in the upcoming primaries and caucuses, 40% express support for Gingrich, compared with 23% who support Romney.
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The new survey, conducted Dec. 7-11, also shows that clear majorities of likely GOP primary voters say there is at least a chance they would vote for either Gingrich or Romney in Republican primaries in their state. None of the other GOP candidates draw nearly as much potential support.

Among white evangelicals likely to participate in the primaries and caucuses, two-thirds (67%) say either that they support Gingrich (35%) or that there is at least a chance they would vote for him if their preferred candidate were not in the race (32%). About half of white evangelicals (51%) say they support Romney (10%) or that there is a chance they would vote for him (41%). With a sample size of 147 white evangelicals who say they are very likely to vote in the upcoming primaries, the difference between the 67% who say there is a chance they would vote for Gingrich and the 51% who say there is a chance they would vote for Romney does not reach the level of statistical significance.

Among white mainline Protestants, seven-in-ten say they either support Gingrich (40%) or that they would consider voting for him (30%). Roughly the same percentage say they are open to voting for Romney; 23% currently support him, 40% prefer another candidate but say there is a chance they would vote for Romney. (The survey included too few interviews with members of other religious groups who are also Republican and Republican-leaning likely primary voters to permit analysis of their preferences.)

Campaign Developments Since November

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The impact of recent developments in the campaign, including Herman Cain’s suspension of his candidacy, can be seen by comparing the nomination preferences of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters interviewed in December with those interviewed in mid-November. (The mid-November poll did not have a question identifying likely primary voters.) Support for Gingrich has doubled over the past month among Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters, from 16% in mid-November to 33% in the current survey. Gingrich is the only candidate who has seen his support rise significantly over the past month.

White evangelical Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters now support Gingrich over Romney by a three-to-one margin (32% to 11%), with Romney generating about as much support as Ron Paul (10%) and Michele Bachmann (8%). This is in stark contrast with mid-November — while Cain was still in the race — when evangelicals supported Gingrich and Romney in roughly equal numbers (19% and 17%, respectively).

Among white mainline Protestant Republican registered voters, 42% say Gingrich is their preferred candidate, compared with 20% who support Romney. In mid-November, Romney lead the other candidates among this group.

For a complete discussion of the survey’s findings, see “Gingrich Leads, But Likely GOP Primary Voters Have Not Ruled Out Romney: Tepid Support for Both Leading Candidates.”

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “Religion and the GOP Nomination Race: December Update.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 16, 2011) http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/16/religion-and-the-gop-nomination-race-december-update/, accessed on July 23, 2014.