The former Massachusetts governor did nearly twice as well among non-evangelical voters as he did among evangelicals, having won just 22 percent of their votes, according to exit poll data analyzed by political science professor Bob Botsch after the South Carolina GOP primary, which was held Jan. 21.
A team from USC Aiken’s Social Science and Business Research Lab compared Romney’s percentage of the vote in each of South Carolina’s 46 counties with the percentage of Southern Baptists who live in that county. The researchers found that where there are lower concentrations of Baptists, Romney won a higher percentage of the votes.
“Mitt Romney is facing a problem similar to that faced by John F. Kennedy in 1960,” Botsch stated in his study. “The problem can be captured in almost the same question JFK’s staff asked a little over a half century ago. Would religious conservatives vote for someone of his religion (Catholic then and Mormon now)? Strong empirical evidence from the South Carolina GOP primary suggests that the answer is often no.”
Botsch says the data offer explanation for voter discomfort with Romney, at least among religious conservatives, adding that there are implications in a general election: “Should Romney win the nomination, religion could well cost him states where the election is close and where significant numbers of religious fundamentalists reside.”