Cultural Evangelicals Break For Trump in Michigan and Mississippi; Cruz Relies on Committed Evangelicals in Idaho Victory

Donald Trump addresses the media during a press conference on March 5, 2016 in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s vote-totals were boosted March 8 by cultural evangelicals in Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii — but committed religious evangelicals helped Sen. Ted Cruz win Idaho.

This much-ignored split between cultural evangelicals and committed evangelicals is missed by most media and polling firms.

It’s a problem for Cruz, because there are more cultural evangelicals than committed religious evangelicals in most states, and so those cultural evangelicals seem likely to back Trump in next Tuesday’s winner-take-all primaries in Florida and Ohio.

Exit polls in Michigan and Mississippi confirm that Trump won among evangelicals. But because most pollsters still fail to distinguish between cultural and committed evangelicals, those top-line numbers tell only part of the story.

The Barna Group, a polling firm that specializes in polling evangelical Christians, is the only well-known national polling group that breaks down the broader “evangelical” category into its two component groups: “committed evangelicals”—which Barna calls simply “evangelicals”—and “cultural” evangelicals—which Barna labels “Non-evangelical born-again Christians.”

As Barna first pointed out in a poll it first released on February 25 (conducted between January 28 and February 4), these two segments of what every other major pollster lumps into the broad “evangelical” category exhibit significantly different voting behavior when it comes to candidate preferences in the 2016 GOP Presidential primary.

“Committed” evangelicals, or “evangelicals” using the Barna terminology, back Cruz.

“Cultural” evangelicals, or “non-evangelical born-again Christians” using the Barna terminology, back Trump.

“Evangelical” Christians are characterized by nine specific beliefs, and, according to Barna, comprise only about 8 percent of the population. Breitbart News describes this group as “committed evangelicals.”

“Non-evangelical” born-again Christians” only share two of the nine specific beliefs of evangelical Christians, and comprise about 17 percent of the population, according to Breitbart News estimates. Breitbart News describes this group as “cultural evangelicals.”

Together, “committed” evangelicals and “cultural” evangelicals comprise about 25 percent of the overall population, a number confirmed by a recent Pew Research Study on Religion in America.

That number varies dramatically among the various states, ranging from a low of 9 percent in Massachusetts to a high of 52 percent in Tennessee.

Twenty-five percent of Michigan’s residents are evangelicals, while 41 percent of Mississipians fit into that broad category. In Idaho, 21 percent are evangelicals, but a significant 19 percent are Mormons, Seventeen percent more of the national population are evangelicals, where 1.6 percent are Mormons.

The Barna Group’s research on the presidential candidate preferences of these two different segments of the evangelical population was confirmed by the results of two focus groups conducted by Breitbart News in Nashville, Tennessee on February 25, which indicated that “committed” evangelicals support Cruz and “cultural” evangelicals support Trump.

In Mississippi, where 84 percent of GOP Presidential primary voters self describe as either “born again” or “evangelical” Christians, Trump easily beat Cruz, 48 percent to 39 percent among that group, according to exit polls.  Trump’s margin of victory over Cruz was greater – 48 percent to 37 percent, or 11 percent — among the total population.

In Michigan, where 48 percent of GOP Presidential primary voters self describe as either “born again” or “evangelical” Christians, Trump beat Cruz among that group by a narrower margin –37 percent to 32 percent according to exit polls — but his margin of victory in the general population was still greater — 36 percent to 24 percent, or 12 percent.

Cruz stomped Trump in Idaho, however, 44 percent to 28 percent. Much of that victory may be attributable to the higher turnout of committed evangelicals in that state vs. cultural evangelicals combined with the state’s high population of Mormons. Across the nation, only 1.6 percent of the population is Mormon, but in Idaho, that number is 19 percent, second among all the states only to Utah, where it is 55 percent.

One poll, conducted between Feb 17-26 on behalf of Idaho Weekly Politics, before Romney launched his anti-Trump tirade, had Trump up 30 to 19.

However, Romney, a Mormon, is very popular in Idaho, a state whose primary he won going away in 2012 with 61 percent of the vote. Utah is the only state that has a higher percentage of its residents who are Mormons, at 55 percent, compared to Idaho’s 19 percent.

The Idaho Statesman attributes Cruz’s surprising victory in that state to Romney’s criticism of Trump, but perhaps more importantly, Cruz’s decision to make several pre-primary visits to the state, while Trump did not visit it at all:

More than Romney’s attack, Crane said, Cruz’s weekend visit to the state “played a key role, and the timing of that visit was strategic.” Cruz drew a big crowd in Coeur d’Alene and the response prompted him to come to Boise on six hours’ notice.

Trump, with the consistent lead since September, did not visit.

“Campaigns matter, and Mr. Trump wasn’t able to come to Idaho,” said Rod Beck, Trump’s Idaho chairman. “The doctrinaire conservatives in Idaho, of which there are a lot, broke for Cruz, no question about it.”

Idaho’s primary came two months earlier this year following a change approved in 2015. Only Republicans and the Constitution Party opted for the early date and the primary format. Idaho Democrats will caucus on March 22. Despite interest in the national race, turnout was light because of the early date and the small ballot, officials said.

In an emailed statement to Breitbart News, LaVarr Webb of Idaho Politics Weekly , which paid for the poll that had Trump up by 11 points, explained why Cruz won:

The poll was an accurate snapshot of opinion when it was conducted Feb. 17-26. But a lot changed between the time the poll was taken and when the primary was held. Ben Carson dropped out of the race. Mitt Romney, other establishment leaders and many conservative pundits piled on Trump. Cruz visited Idaho on March 5. Trump didn’t.

So it’s not a surprise that Cruz won the primary.

The unique characteristics that drove Cruz’s surprising success in Idaho, however, are not found in either Ohio or Florida.

29 percent of Ohio’s population is evangelical (broadly defined), and only 24 percent of Florida’s population is evangelical. In neither state does the Mormon population exceed 1 percent.
Recent polls show Trump handily defeating second place Rubio in his home state of Florida, which he currently represents in the United States Senate, both among the general population and the evangelical voting population. Cruz is in third.

Similarly, polls show Trump holds a narrow lead over second place John Kasich in Ohio, where he is the incumbent governor, with Cruz once again in third.
According to the latest Quinnipiac Polls of Florida and Ohio, conducted between March 2 and March 7:

Donald Trump leads native son Sen. Marco Rubio 45 – 22 percent among Florida likely Republican primary voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, with 18 percent for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and 8 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

This compares to a 44 – 28 percent Trump lead over Rubio in a February 25 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University.

In Ohio, Gov. Kasich trails Trump 38 – 32 percent, compared to a 31 – 26 percent Trump lead February 23. Cruz has 16 percent, with 9 percent for Rubio. . .

Among Florida likely Republican primary voters, Trump leads Rubio 39 – 27 percent among women and 50 – 17 percent among men. Self-described Tea Party members go 48 percent for Trump, 40 percent for Cruz and 9 percent for Rubio. Trump gets 39 percent of white, born-again evangelicals, with 30 percent for Cruz and 21 percent for Rubio. . . .

[In Ohio] Kasich gets 32 percent of white, born-again evangelicals, with 29 percent for Trump and 24 percent for Cruz.

In neither winner-take-all state is Cruz likely to win, barring a sudden and unexpected turn of events.

If either Kasich in Ohio or Rubio or Florida hope to pull off come-from-behind victories over Trump, they will likely need to find their margin of victory from a group other than evangelical Christians.

“Committed” evangelicals are unlikely to desert Cruz, while the many “cultural” evangelicals who like Trump will need a compelling reason to vote for another candidate.