Protestant, Catholic GOP Vote Similar to National Average

Protestant, Catholic GOP Vote Similar to National Average

by Frank Newport

Highly religious Protestants slightly less likely to support Romney

PRINCETON, NJ -- Republican Mormons overwhelmingly supported Mitt Romney for the party's presidential nomination in December, while Republicans with no religious identity were disproportionately likely to support Ron Paul. Catholic Republicans were no more likely than average to support the two Catholics in the GOP race, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum; Protestant Republicans did not disproportionately support any particular candidate.

Republican 2012 GOP preferences, by religious preference

Three of the major Republican candidates in the race this year are Protestant: Ron Paul, who was raised Episcopalian but who now occasionally attends a Baptist Church; Rick Perry, who was raised a Methodist and who now attends a non-denominational evangelical Protestant church; and Michele Bachmann, who until this year was a member of an evangelical Lutheran church. Two of the candidates are Catholic, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and two, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

An aggregate of 11,405 Republicans and Republican/leaning independents interviewed as part of Gallup Daily tracking in December provides the basis for a detailed look at the relationship between Republicans' own religion and the religion of the GOP candidates they support for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The overall level of support for each candidate continues to change in the fluid environment of the GOP nomination process, but the December sample provides a unique ability to look at support levels among smaller segments of the Republican voting population.

The following are the key findings:

  • The clearest cut pattern is the 71% of Mormon Republicans who supported Mitt Romney in December, with Mormons making up 4% of the total Republican sample. Huntsman received 6% of the Mormon vote, higher than his 2% support among all Republicans, while the remaining 23% of Mormon support is spread out across other candidates.
  • Republicans who do not have a formal religious identity (9% of Republicans nationally) disproportionately supported Ron Paul, with 19% of this group supporting Paul, compared with 10% nationally on average in December. It is likely that age explains much of this relationship. Americans with no religious identity skew young, and younger Republicans provide Paul with some of his strongest support.
  • Catholic Republicans -- about 22% of all Republicans nationally -- are remarkably close to the national average in their support for the major GOP candidates. Although Gingrich's conversion to Catholicism because of his third wife, Callista, has been widely discussed, the former Speaker gains no more or less support from Catholics than he does from all Republicans. Rick Santorum, whose religion is a prominent part of his family values-based campaign, also does no better among Republican Catholics than he does among all Catholics nationally.
  • Similar to Catholics, Protestant Republicans reflect the overall sample average in their candidate support. Protestant Republicans, defined as are those who identify with a Protestant or other non-Catholic Christian faith, make up 60% of the sample. They are slightly less likely to support Romney, slightly more likely to support Gingrich, and are otherwise within a point of the national average in their support for each of the other candidates. Because of the uptick in Protestant support for Gingrich and downtick in support for Romney, Gingrich's lead over Romney among Protestants widens to 11 percentage points, compared with his 5-point lead among all Republicans in the December data.

Highly Religious Protestant Republicans Slightly Less Likely to Support Romney

Protestants who attend church weekly are a close match for the widely discussed "evangelicals" who tend to have a disproportionate influence in the Iowa caucus vote and whose vote nationally has become a staple of political discussion.

Eighteen percent of these highly religious Protestant Republicans in December supported Romney, five points lower than the national average. On the other hand, these highly religious Republicans were not significantly more likely than average to support Santorum or Bachmann, two of the most overtly religious candidates.

Republican preferences for GOP candidate, by church attendance among Protestants


Religion is a major differentiating factor in the broad scope of American politics today, with highly religious Americans significantly more likely to identify as Republicans and less likely to identify as Democrats than those who are less religious. Additionally, Americans who identify with a non-Christian faith or who have no religious identity at all are significantly more likely to be Democrats than the national average.

Among Republicans nationally, religion has a different pattern of influence. There has been much discussion of the effect of front-runner Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, and the December data confirm the overwhelming support the former Massachusetts governor can expect to receive from his fellow Mormons nationwide.

Given that Mormons constitute about 2% of American adults and 4% of Republicans nationally, the more important factor may be any possible effect that Romney's faith has on the vote of highly religious non-Mormons, a much larger voting bloc. The current data show that highly religious Protestants do give Romney slightly lower support than he gets among all Republicans, although the five-point difference is not huge.

Republicans with no religious identity give Ron Paul almost twice the level of support that he gets nationally, but this reflects at least in part the youthful skew in Paul's support and the tendency for young Americans to have no formal religious identity.

Two candidates in the GOP race are Catholic, but the December data show that Catholic Republicans at this point are no more likely to support either of these two -- Gingrich and Santorum -- than do Republicans overall. If Santorum does well in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, it will be important to monitor if some of the explanation for his success lies with an increase in support from his fellow Catholics.

These data are from the entire month of December 2011, and the remarkable fluidity in the Republican vote so far makes it certain that further changes will be forthcoming -- particularly because actual voting begins this week in Iowa and next week in New Hampshire. Still, these data give a good indication of the way in which religion may play out in Republican's voting patterns in the months ahead.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Daily tracking survey Dec. 1-29, 2011, with a random sample of 11,405 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who are registered to vote, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of Republican registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

For results based on the various religious subgroups included in the analysis, the maximum margins of sampling error will be larger.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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