March 14, 2012

Religion and the 2012 Republican Primaries: Alabama and Mississippi

rp2012report-short

Rick Santorum won narrow victories in both the Alabama and Mississippi Republican primaries on Tuesday.1 Exit polling shows there was no clear winner among white born-again/evangelical voters in either state, with Santorum and Newt Gingrich receiving roughly equivalent levels of support from evangelicals in both states.

Mitt Romney received less support from evangelicals than from non-evangelical voters in Alabama, continuing the pattern observed in previous primaries. But Romney did about as well among evangelicals as among non-evangelicals in Mississippi. In both states, Romney failed to secure convincing victories among non-evangelical voters, who have tended to favor him over the other candidates in the primary season thus far.2

Santorum was the preferred choice of voters in Alabama who say it matters a great deal to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs. There was no clear winner among this group in Mississippi.

Voting by Born-Again Status

Santorum and Gingrich finished in a virtual tie for first place among evangelical voters in both Alabama (where evangelicals comprised 75% of the electorate) and Mississippi (where evangelicals accounted for 80% of all GOP primary voters). Santorum received 35% of the evangelical vote in both states, and Gingrich received 32% support from evangelicals in both states. Romney was supported by 27% of evangelicals in Alabama and by 29% of evangelicals in Mississippi.

alab-miss-1

In Alabama, Romney and Santorum ran about even among non-evangelical voters (34% supported Romney, 31% voted for Santorum); Gingrich trailed both these candidates with 21% support among non-evangelicals in Alabama. In Mississippi, non-evangelicals were divided between Romney (33%), Santorum and Gingrich (27% each).

Voting by Importance of Candidates’ Religion

Santorum was the clear favorite of Alabama voters who said it matters “a great deal” or “somewhat” to have a candidate who shares their religious beliefs. He received the votes of 41% of this group in Alabama, while Gingrich received 31% support and Romney garnered 23% support. In Mississippi, voters who said it is at least somewhat important that a candidate shares their religious beliefs were divided about evenly between Santorum (35%), Gingrich (31%) and Romney (30%).

alab-miss-2

Among Alabama voters who said it does not matter much whether a candidate shares their religious beliefs, 36% voted for Romney while 25% supported Santorum and 22% backed Gingrich. In Mississippi, 33% of this group voted for Romney while 29% backed Gingrich and 19% voted for Santorum.

This analysis is based on results from exit polls conducted as voters left the polls during the Alabama and Mississippi Republican primary elections. The polls were conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool. Full results and additional details from the Alabama exit poll can be accessed at http://www.cnn.com/election/2012/primaries/epolls/al. Full results and additional details from the Mississippi exit poll can be accessed at http://www.cnn.com/election/2012/primaries/epolls/ms.

This analysis is based on exit poll data that were available as of 10:00 a.m. on March 14. Exit poll data are sometimes reweighted, so some figures may be different from those available on CNN.com.


Footnotes:

1 No exit polling was conducted in Hawaii or American Samoa, where Romney won caucuses held on Tuesday, March 13. (return to text)

2 For analysis of religion in previous GOP caucuses and primaries, see “Synopsis of Religion in the Early Republican Primaries” and “Religion in the Super Tuesday Primaries.” (return to text)

Photo Credits:
Alabama: © William A. Bake/CORBIS
Miss: © Kevin Burke/Corbis