Marco Rubio takes lead among evangelical leaders, study says

Marco Rubio speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC.
Marco Rubio speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

Marco Rubio speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, D.C.

(RNS) October has been a good month for Marco Rubio.

The Republican presidential candidate and U.S. senator from Florida made a strong showing in CNBC’s debate Wednesday (Oct. 28), and on Thursday he captured the lead among a sought-after and influential voter segment: evangelical Christian leaders.

More than one-quarter of evangelical leaders now name Rubio — a Catholic — as their favorite in the presidential field, according to the National Association of Evangelicals, which conducted the survey among the 100 evangelical leaders who sit on its board of directors. The survey was conducted before the most recent debate.

READ: Five Faith Facts about Marco Rubio: ‘Once a Catholic always a Catholic’

The results may be a further indication that a candidate’s religious identity is becoming less important to evangelical voters.

But the news isn’t all good. More than one-fifth — 21 percent — of those polled said they had no preference among the candidates, Republican or Democrat. NAE’s board of directors consists of leaders from evangelical denominations, missions, universities, publishers and churches.

“Rubio represents a new generation of conservative leadership to many,” said Leith Anderson, NAE’s president, in a statement. “But about the same number of evangelical leaders aren’t seeing a strong candidate for them in the mix, and frontrunners didn’t fare well in our poll.”

Dr. Ben Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist who has moved ahead of Donald Trump in major polls, captured only 12 percent of those polled. And Trump got only “an insignificant number of votes,” according to the pollsters. Some of those polled specifically noted “Not Trump” or “Anyone but Donald Trump,” NAE officials said.

READ: 5 Faith Facts about Ben Carson: retired neurosurgeon, Seventh-day Adventist

Evangelical conviction was no guarantee of support from those polled. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist pastor, and Ted Cruz, an evangelical Texas senator, were also on the “insignificant” list. So was Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Methodist.

The NAE conducts a poll among its board members every month, but this is the first time they have been asked about the presidential candidates in this electoral cycle.

But before Rubio celebrates, he might refer to the last time the NAE surveyed its board about presidential hopefuls a year before the election. The leader then — in June 2011 —  was former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Despite his showing of support from 45 percent of NAE leaders, he withdrew from the race about two months later after a poor showing in Iowa.


About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • The only people who listen to “evangelical leaders” are…..evangelical leaders.

    Evangelicals vote their own way.

    It looks like the theocons have joined the neocons in supporting Rubio, and that’s okay, but that’s just a fancy way of saying that establishment Republicans are starting to switch from Bush to Rubio.

  • Rubio has no reasonable expectation of being president.

    The man couldn’t even perform the bare minimum expected of him in his current elected position. He doesn’t deserve a promotion. Btw he was useless in Congress long before he started his presidential run. So its no excuse.

    He leads in absenteeism in Congress. Yet he has the chutzpah to complain about government not functioning and politicians not doing their job. Maybe if he bothered to do his, we could take his criticism of others seriously.

    Typical libertarian, small government, con artist. A well paid “welfare queen”.

  • That’s a fairly lame attack on Rubio, Larry.

    You might as well hit him with a goose feather.

    Now tell us the real reason you’re against Rubio — you’re a left-wing ideologue and he isn’t.

  • Any person willing to vote for him now should take note of such things. The man doesn’t do the job he was elected for. Anyone who voted him in to Congress should be re-examining their past choices.

    People complaining about others not doing their job should reflect on their own performance first. Rubio is a useless senator, why should he be president?

    You are not denying that he has been actively neglecting his work. You are just making a personal attack in response. Ad hominem Jack strikes again! Flinging poo instead of making a rational argument.