Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Why evangelicals didn’t do it for Cruz in New Hampshire

Seal of New Hampshire
Seal of New Hampshire

Seal of New Hampshire

If evangelicals in New Hampshire behaved like evangelicals in Iowa, Ted Cruz would be celebrating a second-place finish in the nation’s first primary this morning. But they don’t, and he isn’t.

Believe it or not, evangelicals are not a negligible segment of the GOP electorate in the Granite State. Yesterday they made up 25 percent of it, up three points from 2012. The problem for an evangelical paladin like Cruz is that they aren’t the kind of voting bloc they are in Iowa.

In 2008, New Hampshire evangelicals split their vote equally among Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Mitt Romney (28-28-27), leaving Iowa-winner Huckabee to finish a poor third with 11 percent overall. In 2012, they went for Romney over Rick Santorum and Ron Paul (31-23-21), leaving Iowa-winner Santorum to finish a poorer fourth with 9.5 percent.

This year, again, evangelicals put their guy over the top in Iowa, preferring Cruz to Donald Trump by 12 points, but in New Hampshire they actually went for Trump over Cruz by four points, 27 percent to 23 percent. That 16-point swing was enough to shove Cruz out of a tie with John Kasich for second place and back into the pack with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

For the past half-century, New Englanders have shunned faith-based politics, and New Hampshire evangelicals are no exception to the rule. It’s a rule that helps explain why there are so few Republicans left in the region.

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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  • Remember what Dylan said in the 1960’s – ‘Times They Are A Changin’. In actuality they have done exactly as he said. Times changed and changed and changed but those who became glued to the 1960’s can do nothing except look at it with confusion and anger.

  • The question is, when will Iowa farmers remember how to spell “cross of gold?’

    Or have their votes been bought by the Socialist Party’s agricultural policy, put into place by Eisenhower in the 1950’s?

    “Socialist”? That was Ezra Taft Benson’s word for the policy he was forced to put in place. “Family farm,” said Eisenhower — not having the crystal ball to see that in a couple of generations the country’s largest farmers would be Coca-Cola, Archer Daniels Midland, and suchlike.

    Note that now Republicans, or at least the one or two genuine libertarians among them, are starting to attack mindless subsidies to big agribusiness, Warren Buffett, the largest shareholder in Coca-Cola, is beginning to sell it off. Prudent man. Rich, though, in part thanks to those Federal dollars in Iowa.


  • Good analysis, Mark. Question: If Iowan evangelicals are on one end of the pole — faith is foremost in driving voting choices — and NH evangelicals on the other, would you put southern evangelicals somewhere in the middle?

    I guess that’s the $50,000 question whose answer may determine what happens next.

  • Yes, Jack, I’d put Southern evangelicals in the middle. In fact, that’s exactly what I told a Wall Street Journal reporter today. Now let’s see if I know what I’m talking about.

  • You may turn out to be right…..I think the southern evangelicals who put the “evangelical” part of their identity first will lean toward Cruz while those who place the “southern” first will tend toward Trump.

  • Right — though I do think there are some younger, non-culture warrior types who put “evangelical” first who will be voting for Rubio. I would like to see a question on frequency of church attendance, which would provide some additional empirical insight.

  • Mark,

    Sanders pulled 8%, as write-ins, at an Evangelical straw-poll in one of the Great Plains states last summer.


  • That sounds right about the Rubio evangelicals. The frequency-of-church-attendance question should be there…’s a gold-standard question as to the difference between lifestyle evangelicals and those who identify as evangelicals more the way people root for the home team. I would guess the home-teamers would be the most fertile ground for Trump, with some Cruz votes and fewer Rubio ones.

  • The irony here, Mark, is how the southern-heritage-firsters in South Carolina, those who place the cultural and political trappings of the south ahead of evangelicalism, are probably the heart of the Trump electorate, given that Trump is a New Yorker through and through, and given how southerners aren’t noted for being fans of New Yorkers. These are odd times politically, for sure.

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