According to exit polls, evangelicals voted 4-to-1 for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. That was one of the few religion stories coming out of election night. It was significant in that it was the strongest electoral unity among evangelicals on record.
But questions have remained: Did evangelicals really want to vote for Romney? Were they enthusiastic about the Republican candidate? Or did they vote reluctantly, concerned over Romney's Mormon faith and other issues? Were their votes for him mostly motivated by dislike for Obama?
A new analysis of exit poll data, released today by the Pew Research Center, suggests that not only were evangelicals enthusiastic about Romney, but they were as enthusiastic about his candidacy as they were about John McCain's run in 2008 and George W. Bush's reelection in 2004.
Meanwhile, another poll, released this week by The Barna Group, found slightly less evangelical support for Romney than for McCain or Bush—but found that Romney's Mormonism was not a significant issue for their vote.
They liked him. They really liked him.
According to the Pew Forum's exit poll analysis, 62 percent of evangelicals who voted for Romney said they did so because they strongly favored him. That's a slightly higher percentage than Romney voters overall (60%). And it's more than twice the number of evangelicals who said they voted for Romney "with reservations" (28%, same as Romney supporters overall). Only 9 percent of evangelicals said they voted for Romney as a vote against Obama—slightly lower than the 10 percent of Romney voters overall who said so, but well within the poll's margin of error.
Catholic Romney voters were slightly more enthusiastic (67% strongly favored), and Mormon Romney voters were predictably wild about voting for a fellow believer (84%—which was still lower than the 87% of Black Protestant Obama voters who said they strongly favored their candidate). But overall, the data suggests that evangelical Romney voters were just as supportive as other Romney voters.
Strong support was similar among evangelicals who supported Obama. The 63 percent of evangelical Obama voters who said they cast their vote because they "strongly favor[ed] my candidate" is nearly identical to the 62 percent of evangelical Romney voters who gave that answer. But a significantly higher percentage of evangelical Obama voters—15 percent—said their vote was driven by "dislike of the other candidates." And a slightly smaller percentage (24%) said they voted for Obama because they "liked [him], with reservations."
The Pew Forum report says that another indicator of solid evangelical support for Romney is that evangelicals turned out as much as they did in 2008 and 2004. "There are signs that both the white Protestant and white Catholic share of the electorate have been gradually declining over the past decade, but white evangelical Protestants' share of the national electorate is roughly the same over the past three elections," the research center said in its report today. "There is no clear pattern of either a decline in the white evangelical Protestant share of the electorate across states or a smaller vote margin for the GOP candidate relative to 2008 or 2004."
'Lowest level of support since Dole'
A Barna Group survey released Wednesday found that 81 percent of evangelicals voted for Romney over Obama. In one sense, that's hardly news—it's nearly identical to the exit poll data (which said 79% of evangelicals did so).