Huckabee’s math doesn’t add up — Evangelical turnout couldn’t reverse 2012 election

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Mike Huckabee shaking hands

Phot by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Governor Mike Huckabee at a book signing at the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

Mike Huckabee rallied conservatives at the Values Voter Summit. As part of his appeal to turn out more voters, he made a claim that has made headlines:

If ten percent more evangelicals had voted in the last presidential election, we would have a different president than the one we have right now.

Like a lot of political rhetoric, it sounds believable even though it doesn’t add up. Here’s how (I guess?!) Huckabee came up with the figure.

  1. Romney lost by four points. To change the election, Romney needed to pick up two points.
  2. According to exit polls, evangelicals were around 26 percent of the voters.
  3. Ten percent of evangelicals is 2.6%.
  4. The same polls showed 78% of evangelicals voted for Romney.
  5. 2.6 x 78% = 2.02

Ta-DA! An extra two points for Romney, and now Obama wouldn’t be president.

Looks right? It isn’t. Not even close. With a ten percent increase in evangelical turnout, Obama still walks away with the election 47.5% to 50.5%.* And this is assuming that such a tidal wave of evangelical turnout wouldn’t have caused a reaction from Obama’s camp and that all the new evangelical voters would be as supportive of Romney (which they wouldn’t be because of socioeconomic status and other issues). The ten percent gain in turnout simply reduces Obama’s win from four points to three.

There are two major flaws with Huckabee’s math. The first is that it doesn’t take into account the gains (albeit much smaller) that Obama would receive from evangelicals. Romney’s net gain is only 45%. The second is that the percentage of the vote is even smaller because the total number of voters also increased.

Turnout among evangelicals was already high. The 2012 ANES survey gauged evangelical turnout at 73 percent. For evangelicals to change the popular vote, evangelical turnout would need to rise to over 95 percent. This is a level that is impossible given registration laws in the USA.

Exit polls give a picture into how evangelical turnout might have changed the electoral college results. With a 10 percent bump in turnout, Florida would have broken for Romney. Ohio and Virginia needed 15-20 percent increase in turnout. But to win the election, turnout would need to rise above 30 percent.

No matter how you work the numbers, Huckabee’s claim about evangelical turnout doesn’t add up.

But then again, mathematics, like evolution, is just a theory.

* Exit polls had Romney getting 78% of the votes from white evangelicals, but these polls did not questions about religion for every state. The 2012 American National Election Study (ANES) had Romney receiving 72% and Obama garnering 25% of votes from white evangelicals. “White evangelicals” for both surveys includes whites who say that they are born-again Christians.

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