Bookmark and ShareShare
Friday, January 6, 2012

Religion, Santorum and Romney, New Hamsphire and South Carolina

The three remaining states with GOP primaries this month -- New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida -- present very different religious profiles, and therefore different religious contexts for the Republican candidates’ campaigns.

The biggest religious distinction is between New Hampshire, which holds its primary Jan. 10, and South Carolina, which has its primary on Saturday, Jan. 21. New Hampshire is one of the least religious states in the union by any measure, while South Carolina is one of the most religious states.

I base this analysis of the relative religiosity of the states on two measures: self-reported church attendance, and the percentage of residents who do not have a formal religious identity.

Our Gallup data from 2010 -- based on over 350,000 interview across the nation -- shows that 20% of New Hampshire residents report attending church weekly, with another 15% saying they attend almost every week or monthly. This is well below the national average of 34% who say they attend weekly and 20% who attend nearly every week or monthly. Another way of looking at this is to say that New Hampshire residents have a 35% regular church attendance average, compared to the national average of 54%.

In fact, New Hampshire on this measure is tied with its neighboring state of Vermont as the second least church attending state in the union, topped only by Maine. Whatever it is that upper New England residents do on Sunday, more often than not it apparently doesn't involve church.

Furthermore, 22% of New Hampshire residents say that they don’t have a formal religious identity. This compares to 14% of Americans nationally who don’t have a religious identity. New Hampshire is fifth highest state in the union on this “no religious identity measure” -- behind Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Alaska.

And, it’s worth noting that our data show that 38% of New Hampshire residents are Protestants or some other non-Catholic Christian religion, 32% Catholic, 1% Mormon, and 1% Jewish. This is a high ratio of Catholics to Protestants; the national average is 54% Protestant to 24% Catholic (again, using 2010 figures).

This presents an interesting challenge for Rick Santorum, who is Catholic and whose campaign is very much pitched to appeal to highly religious voters who care about family values. New Hampshire would be relative fertile ground for Santorum -- in the abstract -- given that it has a higher than average Catholic population. One problem with this assumption arises from my analysis of data from December indicated that Catholics nationally were no more likely to support either Santorum or Newt Gingrich (the other Catholic in the race) than any other candidate. So it’s not clear if Santorum will benefit politically from New Hampshire’s disproportionate Catholic skew.

On the other hand, the relative irreligiousness of New Hampshire residents would suggest that Santorum has no particularly strong religious constituency to play to leading up to next Tuesday's primary. This in theory may be less auspicious for Santorum’s chances of beating expectations in the Granite State.

Only two percent of the U.S. population is Mormon, and outside of Utah and Idaho, there is no significant Mormon population, on a percentage basis, in any state in the union. (Nevada, which has key caucuses next month, is about 5% Mormon). That means that Romney’s religious identity has no natural constituency in any of the three remaining primary states this month.

My analysis shows that Romney does slightly less well among highly religious Protestants, so the fact that New Hampshire has relatively few highly religious Protestants may work to his advantage. But this religious factor is most probably outweighed by geography and history; Romney has lived in neighboring Massachusetts for many years and has a home in New Hampshire.

South Carolina, with its Jan. 21 primary, presents a substantial religious contrast to New Hampshire, as noted. South Carolina is one of the most religious states in the union. A very high 43% of South Carolina residents attend church weekly, with another 23% attending almost every week or monthly, for a combined total of 66%, way above the 54% national average. In fact, South Carolina on this measure is the seventh most religious state in the union, after Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Only 10% of South Carolinians say they don’t have a religious identity, the sixth lowest on this measure of any state in the union.

Plus, South Carolina is one of the most Protestant states in the union, with 74% of its residents identifying with a Protestant or non-Catholic Christian faith. Only 10% of South Carolinians are Catholic, one of the lowest Catholic percentages in the union.

Thus, for Rick Santorum, as was the case in New Hampshire, South Carolina presents an interesting contextual contrast. The high level of religiosity of the residents of South Carolina would seem to be a plus for Santorum’s religious-centric, family-value-oriented campaign positioning. The low percentage of Catholics in South Carolina, on the other hand, does not give him any religious-branding advantage, and its possible that Protestants may have some lingering suspicion of Catholics, given that they are relatively rare in the Palmetto state.

Romney would appear to face a more significant challenge in South Carolina. As noted, our national polling suggests that highly religious Protestants Republicans are somewhat less likely to support Romney than the national average. And there are a lot of these in South Carolina.

Florida, with its primary on Jan. 31, is the fourth most populous state in the union (after California, Texas, and New York), and in terms of religion is almost exactly at the national average. Florida’s religious identity composition is 54% Protestant, 24% Catholic, 13% no religious identity (and 3% Jewish). Thirty-three percent of Floridians go to church weekly, along with 24% who go nearly every week or monthly. Again this is very close to the national average.

Florida resembles Iowa religiously, which is slightly more Protestant and slightly less Catholics than the national average, but otherwise fits the national profile fairly snugly.

Romney and Jon Huntsman's Mormon religious affiliation and Santorum's religiously-oriented campaigning have made religion a factor in the race for the GOP nomination.  How much of a factor will be made more clear when the dust settles after New Hampshire and South Carolina votes are in.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...
January 7, 2012 at 2:22 PM  

I would like to see more polls that include hypothetical presidential toss ups. Ie, "If the general election were held today and the choices were; Obama, Gingrich, and non of the above, who would you pick?" Repeated separately for each of the GOP candidates.
Simple opinion polls that just ask, "In your opinion who is the most likely candidate to beat Obama?" don't really show true electability, only opinion, and tend to make self fulfilling prophecies.

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated by Gallup and may not appear on this blog until they have been reviewed and deemed appropriate for posting.

Copyright © 2010 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. | Terms of Use | Privacy Statement