February 1, 2012

Religion and the 2012 Florida Republican Primary

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In his commanding win in the 2012 Florida Republican primary, Mitt Romney received strong support from Catholics and from voters who do not describe themselves as white born-again/evangelical Christians, according to results from the National Election Pool exit poll. Among both white evangelicals and Protestant voters, Romney ran about even with Newt Gingrich. Romney’s performance among Florida evangelicals represents an improvement over his showing in Iowa (where he lost to Rick Santorum among evangelicals) and in South Carolina (where evangelicals supported Gingrich). Romney’s share of the Florida evangelical vote was roughly comparable to the share of the evangelical vote he received in New Hampshire (36% of evangelicals in Florida voted for him, as did 31% of evangelicals in New Hampshire).1

Among the four-in-ten Florida primary voters who described themselves as white evangelical Christians, 38% voted for Gingrich (who is Catholic), while 36% supported Romney (who is Mormon). About one-in-five Florida evangelicals (19%) supported Santorum (a Catholic), while 5% voted for Ron Paul (who is Baptist). Romney was the clear favorite of non-evangelicals, receiving 54% of their support.

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In the 2008 Florida Republican primary, Romney finished slightly behind John McCain (36% of Florida primary voters supported McCain vs. 31% who voted for Romney). Romney ran about even with both McCain and Mike Huckabee among evangelical voters in Florida in 2008. Among non-evangelicals, 38% voted for McCain in 2008, while 32% supported Romney and 19% voted for Rudy Giuliani.

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Nearly six-in-ten 2012 Florida GOP primary voters described themselves as Protestant, and they split their votes about evenly between Romney (42%) and Gingrich (36%), with far fewer supporting Santorum (13%) and Paul (7%). Romney performed much better among Florida Catholics, receiving 56% of their votes and nearly doubling Gingrich’s total among this group (30%).

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In 2008, Romney and McCain received roughly equivalent levels of support from Protestants in the Florida primary (34% voted for Romney, 31% for McCain). McCain was the winner among Catholics polled in Florida in 2008, receiving 40% of their votes compared with 29% for Romney and 22% for Giuliani.

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This analysis is based on results from exit polls conducted as voters left the polls during the Florida Republican primary election. The poll was conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool. Full results and additional details from the 2012 exit poll can be accessed at http://www.cnn.com/election/2012/primaries/epolls/fl. Full results and additional details from the 2008 exit poll can be accessed at http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/results/epolls/index.html#FLREP.


Footnotes:

1 It is worth noting, however, that while while Romney essentially tied with Gingrich for first place among evangelical voters in Florida, Romney finished eight points ahead of the second-place finisher among evangelicals in New Hampshire (Santorum, with 23% of evangelical votes).(return to text)

Photo Credits: © Larry Mulvehill/Corbis