Here are the exit polls for the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.
Here is my quick analysis on the data presented by the exit polls.
1. In two states with sizable black populations, 93% of the Alabama GOP and 97% of the Mississippi GOP electorate that showed up to the polls were white. Due to Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”, “white flight”, abuse of “states’ rights” appeals with nefarious undertones, and a whole host of other socio-political factors emanating from the GOP over the past half century, the GOP continues to fail to relate to the black community and continues to fail to communicate their platform with inclusive terms and actions.
2. Rick Santorum polls very well among people who describe themselves as “very conservative”. Mitt Romney polls very well among people who describe themselves as “moderate”. Newt Gingrich was pretty even across the board from moderate to very conservative voters.
3. Santorum’s unfortunate choice of words to describe Barack Obama’s efforts to make college education accessible to all did not affect his standing among college educated Republicans in the South. Santorum’s numbers from this crowd fall in line with his overall numbers. College educated Republicans, especially in the South, do not take Santorum’s gaffe of calling Obama a “snob” for wanting everybody to go to college as an insult. That line plays well to a college educated Republican crowd that attended reputable moderate to conservative public and private colleges and view the liberal scholars and culture of Northeast and West Coast public and private institutions with suspicion.
4. Santorum and Gingrich supporters are much more passionate about their candidate than Romney supporters are.
5. Rick Santorum is doing just fine with Republican women. He won a plurality of Republican women according to exit polls conducted in Alabama and Mississippi.
6. Santorum is polling well among Republican working women. Despite caricatures of Santorum in the media as a Puritanical social warrior who would send the country back to the colonial days, Republican working women, many of whom embrace feminism but reject controversial aspects of second and third wave feminism, take a more nuanced view of Santorum’s beliefs and do not view him as a theocrat waging a “war on women”.
7. Santorum wins a majority of people who believe that having strong moral character is the most important trait of a President. Santorum’s appeal is not his experience (he has plenty), his electability (questionable), or his conservative credentials (equally questionable). His trump card is his character.
8. Evangelical Christians (more diverse than you think), were crucial in delivering a victory for Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic. While many Evangelical Christians believe that the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is sharply distinct from historical Christianity, it does not mean they are anti-Mormon and Mitt Romney’s numbers among Evangelical Christians were very close to his overall numbers. Mitt Romney’s religion is not as big a political issue as some in the media make it to be.
9. Santorum won among people who believed it was important for candidates to be open about their religious faith and to share their religious values. An overwhelming majority of the Southern GOP electorate adheres to the Evangelical tradition of Christianity. It wasn’t too long ago that a Catholic Presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, had to endure questions about his faith from Protestant Christians fearing that he would be a theocrat taking orders from the Pope. Folks with an elementary knowledge of Evangelical Christianity might scratch their heads at how Evangelicals who value shared religious values can rally behind a Catholic considering that Catholicism has distinct theological differences from Evangelical Christianity. It can be explained in a small part due to the fact that none of the top three GOP Presidential candidates are from an Evangelical tradition. If Mike Huckabee was in the race, he would have an inherent advantage in Alabama and Mississippi.
It can be explained in a larger part due to the fact that much of the anti-Catholicism in this country has disappeared in all sectors of society. Also, contrary to reports and analyses from those with little understanding of Bible Belt politics, Evangelicals on the whole are not looking for a theocrat. Most mainstream Evangelicals like separation of church and state and simply value high moral character and promote values as a means to maintain order in a chaotic world, not to impose a certain brand of faith on the population (The hot button social issues are very nuanced and explaining the different world views here would be a digression.). Yet, these reasons do not fully account for the passion this group of voters feel for Santorum.
Growing up in the South, I know that folks talk openly and honestly about how faith is working in their lives just like how other folks talk about the weather. That is just the culture. It does not matter if the person is a politically conservative Evangelical, a politically liberal Evangelical (yes, politically liberal/theologically conservative Christians do exist), a Roman Catholic, or anything in between. Faith is just a common, casual, non-controversial topic of conversation. People don’t have to agree on every theological issue. They just have to be open to the shared journey of exploring and discovering faith. Modern day American Catholics are not known to be as open about their faith as Evangelical Christians are, but even lay Southern Catholics are more comfortable discussing their faith than their Northeastern counterparts. Rick Santorum, a Christian of the Roman Catholic tradition who is very comfortable talking openly about his faith, naturally scores very well among the group of voters who believe it is important for candidates to be open about their faith.