There were two big surprises on Saturday: Bernie Sanders won the Hispanic vote in the Nevada Democratic caucuses and evangelicals threw their support behind Donald Trump in the South Carolina primary.
Evangelicals in the “first in the South” primary voted 33-27-22 percent, Trump-Ted Cruz-Marco Rubio. That’s surprising because Cruz beat Trump by a dozen points (and Rubio by 13) among evangelicals in Iowa, 34-22-21 percent. (The comparatively few evangelicals in New Hampshire voted 27-23 percent, Trump-Cruz, but we might think of New Hampshire evangelicals as a somewhat different breed.)
Evangelicals were thick on the ground in South Carolina, accounting for 72 percent of voters, up from 65 percent in 2012. A group that big is going to have a range of political interests. Consider that fewer than half of evangelicals — 44 percent — in South Carolina identified themselves as “very” conservative. They were Cruz voters; very conservative evangelicals voted 40-28-17 percent, Cruz-Trump-Rubio.
But not-very-conservative evangelicals looked quite different; they voted 37-25-16 percent, Trump-Rubio-Cruz. That is, Cruz first among very conservative evangelicals. Cruz third, Trump first, among their not-as-conservative brethren. And the latter group was the larger one.
We see a similar result looking at evangelicals who said they care a great deal that a candidate shares their religious beliefs – 54 percent of all evangelicals, they voted 35-27-19 percent, Cruz-Trump-Rubio. Among evangelicals who were less focused on a candidate who shares their religious beliefs, the vote was 41-24-17 percent, Trump-Rubio-Cruz. Same deal: Cruz first among evangelicals focused on shared religious beliefs; Cruz last, and Trump first, among all other evangelicals.
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SOURCE: ABC News, Gary Langer