Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Iowa predictions: Cruz and Sanders

Iowa Seal
Iowa Seal

Iowa Seal

When the precincts turn in their results tonight, I predict the winners of this year’s Iowa caucuses will be Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. Religion’s a big part of the reason.

On the Republican side, it’s all about white evangelicals, who typically constitute 60 percent of GOP caucus-goers. Since 1988, when they catapulted Pat Robertson into second place, Iowa’s evangelicals have been the most highly mobilized and politically successful religious community in the country. They handed the state’s nomination to Mike Huckabee in 2008 and in 2012 put Rick Santorum over the top.

No, Cruz hasn’t sealed the deal with the evangelical rank and file, who support Donald Trump to a surprising degree. But Cruz has worked the pastors to a fare-thee-well, and they’re the key to getting the troops out. The pastors have no use for Trump at all. Who they like is Ted Cruz.

As for the Democrats, the energy is all with those who are feeling the Bern, and excitement is important for caucus turnout. But beyond that, it’s important to note that the Iowa electorate has become appreciably less religious since Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses eight years ago.

Nones have increased their share of the population from 15 percent to 24 percent. Christians are down 11 points, with the decline concentrated among Catholics and Mainline Protestants, whom the Nones now outnumber by six and two percentage points respectively. Nones are overwhelmingly Democrats, and this year, Sanders is their standard-bearer. I’m saying they will turn out for him.

The final Iowa Poll shows modeset leads for Trump and for Hillary Clinton. If Cruz and Sanders win, you heard it here first.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • The Cruz- -Pastor love fest may well be overestimated.

    At least in the Evangelical world where popularity and MONEY are neatly tucked away in a place where pastors would rather not mention.

    At the top priority on their list of qualifications.

    Loss of membership and being snided by the world have taken their toll. Morality may be for sale after all. (see Six-Shooter Fallwell and the TV greats)

    Power, wealth and fame are just that, even if they are obtained vicariously.
    Enter–preacher I’mallaboutthat.

    Where is the the guy who held up Kim Davis’ hand? He can’t even get his own boys to vote for him. It is not about faith anymore, even among “the faithful.”

    But everybody wants to hold Mr. Trump’s hand because of what might be in it for them. Sad but true.

    I don’t see the Nones, Liberal Democrats, Bernie Hard Left Democrats and the Pastor crowd that far apart actually.


    Trump by a strong 1st.
    Bernie by a squeak.
    Hillary a…

  • Mr. Harrell and Mr. Silk both miss something: Anyone who thinks that so-called evangelicals are about Jesus/Christianity first but everything else second will get a rude awakening if current perceived trends of rank-and-file evangelicals favoring Trump(!) hold in Iowa. Yes, Cruz does wrap himself in a holier-then-thou mantle, even as Trump really doesn’t. But in fact, the aura around Trump’s quest stems chiefly from something even beyond the lure of “what might be in it for them”…

    You see, Iowa’s earlier favorites like Robertson/Santorum fused over-sanctimonious Christianity with gross intolerance of gays, women, non-Protestants, etc. They adopted this fusion because they had to. But no mask is needed in the Internet age. If tomorrow’s analysis shows Iowa evangelicals breaking for Trump over Cruz, then we’ll know the so-called evangelicals aren’t really about Jesus: They’re about HATE, pure and simple, and that’s what Trump is. Compared to Trump’s hate fest, Cruz…

  • I’m with you on Cruz but think Clinton pulls it out. Better ground games get supporters to caucus.

  • It’s an excellent article and the comments by Mr. Harrell and Mr. Riggs are very good too.

    For all the talk about Christianity, it’s a convenient vehicle for Cruz and Trump to carry votes. Their “faith” is all about power and their exploitation of vulnerable Iowa voters is shameful. The fact that they are shameless is another reason they don’t belong in any public office.

  • You got it Prof. nice job!

    Fifty-fifty is a win for Bernie when you’re running against the machine. The only bad luck was Hillary winning five out of five coin tosses, unbelievable.

  • O well,

    I am humbled by greatness once more. Congrats Mark.

    Now cut and run before you are tempted to prognosticate New Hampshire.