Which Republican is gaining among born-again Christians? The puzzle of small polls

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A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds white born-again Christians in the Republican Party are coalescing around Donald Trump and Ben Carson. But beyond that, it’s tough to say who’s gaining among this key voting bloc in the GOP.

It’s a perennial problem with polls. We often want to know about some group, but polls are designed to measure the nation as a whole. These polls start with a thousand or so people. It asks about the preferences of Republicans (about a third of the poll). Of these few hundred voters, groups such as born-again Christians become just a hundred or so people—if we’re lucky.

According to the poll, Republican-leaning, evangelical voters are coalescing around Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Together, they have over half of the evangelical support. The poll gives Trump a third of the vote; Carson receives another quarter. Each candidate is doing better than the rest of the field, but statistically-speaking, the two are tied.

Even with a small sample of white evangelical Republicans, it is safe to say that Trump and Carson are now the two frontrunners among this voting bloc.  Both candidates are polling better among evangelicals than they did just two months ago when Carson had few supporters among evangelicals. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted July 16-19 found that only four percent of Republican-leaning, born-again voters backed Carson. The poll gave a slight edge to Trump (20 percent). Carly Fiorina is also starting to gain (albeit anything above zero is growth). All this has come as Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Scott Walker have lost support (Walker and Gov. Rick Perry recently announced that they are dropping out of the race).

But beyond these major changes, there isn’t enough information to say who else is gaining/losing among this group. Some candidates appear to be doing better. Some look as if they’re doing worse. The problem is math: we need more data before we can say whether these changes are real or just due to chance.

What we have is a couple blurry snapshots. It’s better than nothing, but we need to be careful and not read into them more than the math will allow.

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  • Diogenes

    Speaking as a conservative evangelical, Trump is most unlikely to get my vote. I believe he is wholly unqualified for the position of President. But then I view Obama and Hilary both unqualified as well. Obama primarily because he came to the office with limited political experience, at least on a national level, and his foreign policy has been horrible. Hilary mucks up everything she touches and is completely dishonest. Trump is merely an egomaniac who is pandering to the constituency of which I am a member…he gets no points for that. I disagree with Bernie Sanders on a host of social issues, but he has made some salient remarks on certain economic issues with which I have sympathy; i.e. TARP money to firms that neither deserved or required it. Between Trump and Sanders I believe I’d grit my teeth and vote Sanders.

  • Larry

    Don’t worry. On a national level the “social issues” conservatives go nuts over have zero chance of ever getting through. Too divisive to ever be accepted on a national level and important Supreme Court decisions are too much of a roadblock to be overcome.

    At best its just an excuse to vote against your economic interests. At least that is how it has been when fiscal conservatives were running the GOP.