Noted by several others, the results in Iowa show that Huckabee does not do very well with Catholic voters. Crosstabs from this old Rasmussen Florida poll from last month suggest that there may be something to this. In a poll where Huckabee registered 27% support, 17% of Catholics backed him, while receiving a whopping 46% from evangelicals. Meanwhile, Giuliani received the second-largest share of Catholic support (26%), while Romney was backed by the same percentage of Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants (29%). This has been the pattern in other states as well.
Rod, who endorsed Huckabee yesterday, said something in an earlier post that came to mind as I was thinking about this question:
For me, the Huck-as-change-agent theme comes down to this: an America led by a President Huckabee, and a conservative movement whose leader he is, might be an America and a conservatism where more people will read Wendell Berry — and for that matter, Catholic social thought.
If this pattern of limited Catholic support for Huckabee keeps up, barring the unlikely elevation of Michael Gerson in a future Huckabee Administration (there’s a scary thought), there may not be many who are supporting Huckabee who will be promoting Catholic social thought in any form. More to the point, if this pattern continues, Huckabee probably cannot win a general election.
On one level, it makes perfect sense that Catholic voters would not respond well to Huckabee. As a conservative Southern Baptist, he might appear to be no different from the Baptists who insist that Catholics are not Christians. Catholic voters might conclude that the people who are voting against Romney and for Huckabee on account of religion may very well also view their church as a “cult,” so they are withholding their support from Huckabee for that reason? To the extent that the media have explained his political success, for the most part correctly, in terms of evangelical support, and to the extent that the media have, less accurately, talked up the anti-Mormon factor in discussing his campaign, it would not be hard for voters who know relatively little about Huckabee to assume that he is simply the evangelical candidate with all of the possible anti-Catholic baggage that might entail. On the other hand, why Catholic voters should respond so much more strongly to Romney is a puzzle. He cannot claim any nominal or cultural connection to Catholicism, as Giuliani can, and his pro-life views are such a recent development that I find it hard to believe that he is winning over Catholic voters on this alone. Is there some boomerang pro-Romney sympathy vote that has emerged in reaction against anti-Mormonism? Perhaps Catholic voters are drawn to support the candidate who appears to be facing a “religious issue,” who currently hails from Massachusetts and who has invoked JFK’s speech on religion ad nauseam?
P.S. The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll, while not giving any figures according to religious affiliation, confirms the pattern from the earlier poll. Just look at the geographic distribution of Huckabee’s support: 40% in the northwest (the heavily evangelical Panhandle, including Pensacola) and 8% in the southeast (Miami-Dade and its surroundings). Huckabee receives decent, but hardly overwhelming, support in the other regions of Florida (17-18%). Conversely, Giuliani fares best in the southeast (25%) and does horribly in the northwest (2%). Romney runs strongest in northeast Florida (23%), receives 15% in SE Florida and receives only 8% in the northwest. Since Florida has something like 2.25 million Catholics living there, this could be a major hurdle for Huckabee (assuming that he does well enough in the rest of January that Florida still matters to his chances). Huckabee’s other, unrelated Florida problem? The elderly. Voters 65+ are the core of McCain’s strength down there, while Huckabee leads among the youngest cohort and runs competitively in every other group. Among the 65+ he is getting slaughtered by McCain 38-11, and he runs fourth overall among the eldest voters. Somebody doesn’t like all that talk about the greatest generation being the one yet to be born.