Rubio surges among evangelical insiders

Campaign 2016 | Fiorina and Cruz also make gains, while Bush loses ground in WORLD’s latest survey
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 8/27/15, 06:59 am

WASHINGTON—Strong debate performances catapulted Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina forward by double-digit margins in the second WORLD evangelical insiders survey, while Jeb Bush slumped from second to fourth place.

The findings are from a monthly survey of 103 evangelical leaders and insiders, 88 of whom participated in August (see note below). The results are not scientific or representative of all evangelicals, but they offer a snapshot of how a group of well-connected evangelicals are leaning in the 2016 election.

This month, respondents shifted toward Sen. Rubio of Florida, whom 53 percent named as either their first or second choice—up from a combined 39 percent in July.

“Many of the candidates running for the Republican nomination are impressive, but Marco Rubio reminds me more of Jack Kennedy every day,” said survey participant Richard Land, the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, who spent 25 years leading the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Whatever charisma is, he’s got it.”

Many pundits panned Bush’s performance in the first GOP debate, and it showed in the survey results. The former Florida governor’s support was down 8 percent combined, even though 30 percent of respondents said he is the most prepared to be president—easily the highest-rated candidate in the field.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas jumped over Bush (24 percent) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (21 percent) to take second place overall: 29 percent selected Cruz as their first or second choice, up 4 percent from last month.

Carly Fiorina, on the heels of her widely acclaimed debate performance, surged into third place with a combined 25 percent. Only 10 percent of respondents—down from 15 percent last month—said they would not consider voting for her, a number only beaten by Rubio (5 percent) and Walker (8 percent).

Although Fiorina is rising in recent national polls, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO still may not have the long-term average to make the main stage when CNN hosts the second GOP debate on Sept. 16. Survey participant Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest women’s public policy organization, said any debate formula that leaves Fiorina off the main stage would be wrong.

“Carly Fiorina’s debate performance and subsequent ability to articulate a cogent message on economic and foreign policy has earned her the attention of voters,” Nance said.

Donald Trump, who leads the GOP field in national polls, continues to be a non-starter for evangelical insiders. For the second straight month, only 5 percent said Trump is their first or second choice, and 81 percent said they “absolutely” would not consider voting for him—topped only by Democratic candidates Martin O’Malley (83 percent), Hillary Clinton (85 percent), and Bernie Sanders (86 percent).

Former evangelical favorites Mike Huckabee (5 percent), Rick Perry (2 percent), and Rick Santorum (zero votes) all saw their waning support erode even further. Ben Carson, who sits third in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, only garnered 3 percent of combined support, but significantly more respondents indicated they would now consider him.

Domestic religious liberty again topped the list of most important election issues among respondents, up slightly to 71 percent. Another 64 percent named abortion as a top-three concern, an 8 percent gain, which was a larger increase than for any other issue.

“The increased attention to Planned Parenthood will continue to raise the importance of the abortion issue in the minds of voters,” Nance said. “This past weekend’s rallies across the country are further proof of the breadth of this scandal.”

Note: Due to the apolitical positions of some participants (such as pastors), we are not publicizing all of the names of those surveyed, but we are quoting some each month. The participants represent a diverse mix of persons engaged in various aspects of the evangelical community, including ministry, public policy, law, higher education, and media. This is not a survey of only white, conservative evangelical leaders—it includes African-American and Hispanic leaders and almost 20 politically engaged millennials.

WORLD’s survey of evangelical leaders and insiders

1. If the presidential election were today, which declared candidate do you prefer?

Marco Rubio, 34.5%, 30

Ted Cruz, 21.8%, 19

Jeb Bush, 10.3%, 9

Carly Fiorina, 8.0%, 7

John Kasich, 6.9%, 6

Scott Walker, 5.7%, 5

Mike Huckabee, 4.6%, 4

Hillary Clinton, 2.3%, 2

Donald Trump, 2.3%, 2

Ben Carson, 1.1%, 1

Bobby Jindal, 1.1%, 1

Undecided, 1.1%, 1

Chris Christie, 0.0%, 0

Lindsey Graham, 0.0%, 0

Martin O’Malley, 0.0%, 0

Rand Paul, 0.0%, 0

Rick Perry, 0.0%, 0

Bernie Sanders, 0.0%, 0

Rick Santorum, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 87 

Skipped: 1

2. On a scale of 1-to-5, how excited are you about this candidate?

1-Disappointed, 0 

2-Lukewarm, 3 

3-Satisfied, 17 

4-Happy, 47 

5-Elated, 21     

Average response: 3.98

Answered: 88 

Skipped: 0

3. Who is your second choice?

Marco Rubio, 18.2%, 16

Carly Fiorina, 17.0%, 15

Scott Walker, 14.8%, 13

Jeb Bush, 13.6%, 12

Bobby Jindal, 8.0%, 7

Ted Cruz, 6.8%, 6

John Kasich, 5.7%, 5

Rand Paul, 3.4%, 3

Donald Trump, 3.4%, 3

Ben Carson, 2.3%, 2

Rick Perry, 2.3%, 2

Chris Christie, 1.1%, 1

Mike Huckabee, 1.1%, 1

Jim Webb, 1.1%, 1

Undecided, 1.1%, 1

Hillary Clinton, 0.0%, 0

Lindsey Graham, 0.0%, 0

Martin O’Malley, 0.0%, 0

Bernie Sanders, 0.0%, 0

Rick Santorum, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 88

Skipped: 0    

4. According to a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Scott Walker are the top four contenders for the GOP nomination for president. Which of these candidates do you prefer?

Scott Walker, 44.8%, 39

Jeb Bush, 34.5%, 30

Ben Carson, 14.9%, 13

Donald Trump, 5.7%, 5

Answered: 87

Skipped: 1
    

5. Who will you absolutely not vote for in the primaries? (Check as many as apply.)

Bernie Sanders, 86.4%, 76

Hillary Clinton, 85.2%, 75

Martin O’Malley, 83.0%, 73

Donald Trump, 80.7%, 71

Lindsey Graham, 60.2%, 53

Chris Christie, 55.7%, 49

Rand Paul, 48.9%, 43

John Kasich, 40.9%, 36

Jeb Bush, 31.8%, 28

Rick Santorum, 30.7%, 27

Mike Huckabee, 25.0%, 22

Rick Perry, 23.9%, 21

Ben Carson, 22.7%, 20

Bobby Jindal, 19.3%, 17

Ted Cruz, 18.2%, 16

Carly Fiorina, 10.2%, 9

Scott Walker, 8.0%, 7

Marco Rubio, 4.5%, 4

Answered: 88

Skipped: 0

6. What are the top three issues you will consider when selecting a candidate? 

Religious freedom (domestic), 70.9%, 61

Abortion, 64.0%, 55

Marriage and family issues, 29.1%, 25

Supreme Court nominations, 23.3%, 20

Economy/jobs, 22.1%, 19

Foreign policy, 22.1%, 19

National security/terrorism, 18.6%, 16

Immigration, 16.3%, 14

Federal debt/deficit, 15.1%, 13

Religious freedom (international), 10.5%, 9

Healthcare/Affordable Care Act, 4.7%, 4

Education, 3.5%, 3

Race relations, 3.5%, 3

Taxes, 3.5%, 3

Other, 3.5%, 3

Environment/pollution, 1.2%, 1

Poverty, 1.2%, 1

Limited government, 1.2%, 1

Crime, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 86

Skipped: 2    

7. Which candidate is most prepared to be president today?

Jeb Bush, 29.9%, 26

Ted Cruz, 14.9%, 13

Scott Walker, 12.6%, 11

Hillary Clinton, 6.9%, 6

John Kasich, 6.9%, 6

Marco Rubio, 6.9%, 6

Bobby Jindal, 5.7%, 5

Rick Perry, 4.6%, 4

Carly Fiorina, 3.4%, 3

Mike Huckabee, 3.4%, 3

Donald Trump, 2.3%, 2

Ben Carson, 1.1%, 1

Undecided, 1.1%, 1

Chris Christie, 0.0%, 0

Lindsey Graham, 0.0%, 0

Martin O’Malley, 0.0%, 0

Rand Paul, 0.0%, 0

Bernie Sanders, 0.0%, 0

Rick Santorum, 0.0%, 0


Answered: 87

Skipped: 1
    

Graphs by David Freeland.

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD’s deputy chief content officer and WORLD Radio’s managing editor based in Dallas. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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