Different Picture of Evangelical Voters in New Hampshire

by Nathan L. Gonzales January 9, 2008 · 1:09 AM EST

Less than a week after former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee rode to victory on the shoulders of evangelical voters, he hit a speed bump in New Hampshire with the same group.

In Iowa, 60% of GOP caucus goers were self-described born again or evangelical Christian. Huckabee won the group with a commanding 46%. Mitt Romney finished second (19%), Fred Thompson third (11%), and Sen. John McCain tied with Cong. Ron Paul at 10%.

But in New Hampshire, McCain, Huckabee, and Romney fought to essentially a three-way tie (28%, 28%, and 27% respectively) among evangelicals, who made up nearly a quarter of Granite State Republicans.

The drop off in the size of the evangelical electorate is not surprising, but McCain’s dramatic improvement is particularly noteworthy. Tuesday’s results prove that evangelicals are not a monolithic block of voters, despite the laziness of some observers in claiming otherwise.

In Iowa, Huckabee won 56% of caucus goers who said that religious beliefs mattered a great deal to them (36% of the electorate). McCain, Romney, and Thompson all tied at 11%, a distant second. But in New Hampshire, McCain defeated Huckabee 34%-28% among voters who prioritized religious beliefs, although their share of the electorate was much smaller (14%) than in Iowa.

And among the one-third of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire who said they attended church weekly, McCain finished first with 32%, Romney second at 28%, and Huckabee third with 24%. On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama won weekly churchgoers (18% of the Democratic electorate) with 37%. Sen. Hillary Clinton was second with 32%. Unfortunately, the same question was left off of the Iowa entrance poll, making comparisons difficult.

While McCain did well among evangelicals, he also easily won those who strongly supported civil unions in the state, adding even more complexity to the New Hampshire electorate.

According to one Republican observer, Huckabee’s Southern charm just didn’t play as well in the Granite State as it did in Iowa. The good news for the former Arkansas governor is that evangelicals in the upcoming battlegrounds of Michigan and South Carolina are more likely to be friendlier to his style and message than Tuesday’s flock. But only more results will determine whether McCain has newfound appeal to evangelicals or if New Hampshire is an aberration in the race for the Republican nomination.