Romney Polls Better Among White Evangelicals than Bush, McCain

By Fred Lucas | October 23, 2012 | 5:06 PM EDT

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (AP)

( – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s polls better among white evangelical voters than previous GOP nominees performed on Election Day, according to a survey released this week examining the religious and political views of Americans. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama leads big among African-American Protestants and “religiously unaffiliated” voters.

Further, Obama has an edge over Romney among all self-identified Catholics surveyed in the 2012 American Values Survey conducted of 3,003 adults by the Public Religion Research Institute and released on Monday. But the survey gives Romney a solid lead among Catholics who regularly attend church.

Romney holds the support of three-fourths, 76 percent, of white evangelical protestant voters, according to the poll. If that is reflective of the election, it would comfortably surpass the 65 percent of white evangelical votes that John McCain received in 2008 and President George W. Bush’s 63 percent and 67 percent in 2000 and 2004 respectively, according to Pew Research.

The number also could dispel speculation that Romney’s Mormon faith would be an issue to voters. High turnout among white evangelical voters were viewed as key to Bush’s reelection in 2004. Romney also holds a small majority, 52 percent, of white mainline Protestant voters, which tend to be more theologically liberal.

Obama wins 97 percent of the black Protestant vote and 73 percent of the “religiously unaffiliated” vote. The “religiously unaffiliated” group has three subcategories in the survey, the “unattached believer,” the “seculars” and the “atheists and agnostics.” Obama carried 81 percent of atheist and agnostic votes and 67 percent of secular votes, the poll says.

Obama has a slight edge over Romney among all Catholics voters, 49 percent to 47 percent.

“However, the Catholic vote is highly complex, and there were significant divisions among Catholics on the question,” the poll said. Notably, among Catholics who attend church once per week or more, Romney holds a firm 59 percent to 37 percent lead over Obama. Among Catholic voters who attend church once per month or less, Obama wins resoundingly 59 percent to 35 percent.

On Catholics and public policy, 63 percent of all Catholics believe the church should focus more on “social justice” even if it comes at the expense of pro-life issues, while 28 percent believe the church should focus more on pro-life matters than on “social justice.” Among the “social justice” Catholics, Obama leads Romney, 60 percent to 37 percent. Among pro-life Catholics, Romney leads Obama 67 percent to 27 percent.

“Our polling and a number of other polls I would say have confirmed pretty clearly that white evangelical voters are clearly embracing Romney in this election cycle despite some of their earlier theological concerns that we heard from some quarters,” Public Religion Research Institute CEO Robert P. Jones told

“Whenever we’ve asked sort of a head to head question about whether they’re going to support Romney or Obama head to head, we’ve seen consistently about three-quarters of White Evangelical voters saying they would support Romney over Obama. They do have theological concerns that translate directly into a lack of support at the ballot box,” Jones said.

The evangelical support for Romney largely mirrors the results of a Pew poll released on Oct. 8 that found 76 percent of white evangelical likely voters supported Romney, while 20 percent supported Obama. That same Pew poll found Romney leading Obama among likely Catholic voters 50-44 percent.

The Pew poll, taken from Oct. 4-7, does not have as thorough a breakdown as the American Values Survey, but the American Values Survey was conducted from Sept. 13 through Sept. 30, thus does not account for the post-debate perception of voters.

Similar to Romney, Jones recalled that in 2008 there was also question about whether McCain would have evangelical support.

“One interesting pattern is that we’ve had two candidates in a row from the Republican Party who depends very heavily on support from white evangelical voters who have had some questions about their ability to connect with this really critical group,” Jones said.

“So far, both have been able to do it. They’ve had very different kinds of problems. Our challenge is they’ve both been able to really do that. To some extent they’ve been helped that white evangelical Protestants just very strongly identify as Republicans,” he added.

Public Religion Research Institute worked with two senior fellows at the Brookings Institution for the survey.

The American Values Survey finds about half of Americans believe Obama and Romney to have religious views different from their own. For the president, a Protestant, 49 percent said his religious beliefs differ from their own, while 41 percent say his religious views are similar to their own.

A majority of 53 percent believe Romney’s religious beliefs are different from their own, while 34 percent say Romney’s religious beliefs are similar. Further, 11 percent said they did not know Romney’s religious beliefs.

While 57 percent surveyed agree that religious liberty is under threat, almost as many – 56 percent – believed that religious-affiliated colleges and hospitals should be forced to pay for contraception for employees, according to the poll.