My Take: Call him crazy - Huntsman for president in 2024
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's views may line up more with younger GOP voters, the author argues.
October 3rd, 2011
12:11 PM ET

My Take: Call him crazy - Huntsman for president in 2024

Editor's note: Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization specializing in work at the intersection of religion, values and public life.

By Robert P. Jones, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Despite Jon Huntsman’s attempts to speak up during the first few Republican primary debates, the results from a recent straw poll of GOP activists in Florida spell bad news for his campaign: Like the beleaguered former front-runner Michele Bachmann, Huntsman received 2% of the vote.

One of Huntsman’s brightest moments in the campaign so far is his brief Twitter sensation in August when he responded to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s scientific skepticism: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

Huntsman has also distinguished himself on another hot-button issue: legal recognition for gay and lesbian relationships. As governor of Utah, he supported civil unions and declared this summer that he would not use federal powers to block a law legalizing same-sex marriage in New York.

Huntsman also has publicly courted support from gay Republican groups and donors.

While his “call me crazy” approach may not be playing to the heart of GOP primary voters this year, Huntsman looks promising if he could hang in there until 2024.

That is, a look at the profile of Americans in the millennial generation (ages 18-29) almost certainly indicates that a dozen years from now, a campaign such as Huntsman’s may be the norm among Republican candidates.

Specifically, millennials, including Republican ones, are much less likely to hold religious beliefs and positions on social issues that have been the bread and butter of the Christian right GOP base since its influential rise in the 1980s.

First take gay and lesbian issues. According to a recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute called “Millennials, Religion, & Gay and Lesbian Issues,” there is at least a 20-point generation gap between millennials (age 18 to 29) and senior citizens (age 65 and older) on every public policy measure in the survey concerning rights for gay and lesbian people, including adoption rights, employment protection, marriage and civil unions. For example, twice as many millennials as seniors favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry (62% vs. 31%, respectively).

Moreover, this generation gap is evident even among political conservatives. According to two Public Religion Research Institute polls conducted during summer 2011, nearly half (45%) of Republican millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, compared with 17%  among GOP senior citizens and 28% of all Republicans.

Huntsman is similarly positioned for the millennial wave in the near GOP future on issues of evolution and climate change. According to the latest Public Religion Research Institute/RNS Religion News Survey on evolution and climate change, 64% of millennials say that scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time, compared with 32% of seniors. Likewise, 42% of millennials believe that scientists agree the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, compared with 30% of seniors.

And the millennial difference is not limited to policy attitudes. Millennials are also much less likely than senior citizens to hold religious beliefs that anchor these more conservative stances on same-sex marriage, evolution and climate change.

For example, holding a belief that the Bible is the literal word of God is one of the most powerful predictors of views on a wide range of political issues.

Only 26% of millennials believe that the Bible is the word of God and that it should be taken literally word for word, compared with nearly half (47%) of senior citizens. Again, this generation gap is nearly as large even among Republicans. Only 33% of Republican millennials believe the Bible is the literal word of God, compared with 51% of GOP senior citizens.

These numbers suggest that a dozen years from now, Republican operatives may be dusting off “the Huntsman strategy” as models for their campaigns.

Right now, millennials’ overwhelming support for lesbian and gay issues and their embrace of scientific consensus on evolution and climate change may not mean much to GOP strategists since young adults typically turn out in much lower numbers than other demographic groups, especially in primaries. Senior citizens, on the other hand, are the most reliable voting bloc.

But as today’s seniors retire from the voter rolls and millennials grow into more reliable voters and donors, Republican candidates will have a much more complicated job talking to a changing base - especially those who have relied primarily on strategies of rallying so-called “values voters” around controversial social issues.

Asking millennials, even politically conservative millennials, to “vote their values” will produce significant unintended consequences for GOP strategists. It may be little consolation to Huntsman now, but times are changing fast, and compared with his Republican opponents, he is ahead of what looks to be the inevitable curve on these issues.

A dozen years from now, it may be crazy for Republican candidates to run a campaign that doesn’t look like Huntsman’s.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert P. Jones.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Jon Huntsman • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (107 Responses)
  1. Shannon

    If atheists don't have a religion, why do they spend so much time preaching?

    October 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  2. hippypoet , the prophet


    October 4, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  3. Kathleen1031

    I'm not buying this. It's an argument for caving in. There's nothing to say that history won't repeat itself as it does with every generation....IF YOU'RE NOT A DEMOCRAT AT 20 YOU HAVE NO HEART, IF YOU'RE NOT A REPUBLICAN AT 40 YOU HAVE NO BRAIN". Just as people get older and become that reliable donor and voting bloc, every generation starts out liberal the same exact way.
    There is no reason to believe the rise of Democrat values (liberal on everything) on inevitable.
    And the poll on evolution is dumb. Even the Pope believes in evolution! Science is not in opposition to religion whatsoever.

    October 4, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Shannon

      That's the saying as it was in the forties. The modern version is "If you're not a Democrat at 20 you have no heart: if you're a Republican at 40 you have no heart OR brain."

      October 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  4. Pat Chambers

    There's another fella ahead of his time-Gary Johnson. He holds similar libertarian principles as Mr. Huntsman. They would make for a great executive branch in either order, as they are pragmatic, patriotic and determined. CNN-give them a chance to be heard in depth!

    October 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  5. Margroks

    Well that's because a majority of the Republicans that open their mouths do believe the same old bushwa and court the right wing Tea Party extremists. Observe the fact that Huntsman got a pitifully poor number of votes. Either the Republican Party IS composed of extremists or the smart Republicans who are openminded are hiding in shame and refuse to try and push that party back toward the middle.

    October 4, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  6. CC

    I like Huntsman. He seems sane and smart. His previous stint as ambassador to China is a plus as well, because he will have firsthand experience of what it is like to live in China, despite the relatively comfortable and cushioned experience he probably has had.

    October 4, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  7. sensitive bunch

    Again the lefties just assume that all republicans believe the same thing. Heaven forbid (I'm taunting you brainless witless twits)

    October 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  8. David Johnson


    If that link doesn't work, try this one:


    October 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      "Run & Hide Herbie" is going to have a heart attack when he watches that! I wonder if his buddy jesus will revive him...

      October 4, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  9. Robert

    John Huntsman is the kind of Republican candidate we need. Unfortunately, he isn't the one most people want.

    October 3, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  10. Inis Magrath

    Or, as an alternative to Huntsman in 2024, you could vote for a Democratic Party candidate. You remember the Democrats, right? They are the party that has supported LBGT rights and believed in science like evolution and global warming for decades. I mean, welcome to the 21st century Mr. Huntsman, but we Democrats have been here for sometime wondering when the heck your party was going to show up.

    October 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Why can't there be a fiscally conservative (while still caring for fellow americans), socially liberal Party

      October 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Hasa There is. Fiscally conservative but socially liberal is what defines the libertarianism of the Libertarian Party. But the LP is goofy and pointlessly extreme on everything because they know they aren't going to win anything anytime soon, thus ensuring that they will never win any significant number of victories ever. If a moderate version of libertarian arose from reasonable sectors of the current Democratic, Republican and Libertarian Parties, I'd be all in.

      October 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  11. :(

    I feel bad for atheists, such a meaningless life it must be. Atleast they can do whatever they want and not feel wrong or bad about anything, afterall everything is in their hands and they're in total control of everything with nobody to report to.

    October 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Colin

      I feel sorry for theists. What a haunted, superst.itious life it must be, thinking that a Bronze Age Middle eastern sky god is monitoring your thoughts and actions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It must also be a shallow life, only complying with the minimum standards of human morality because of a promised reward.

      October 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • BRC

      While I'm sure much of the Atheist community feels a warm indefference to your recycled speculation about our meaningless lives, I assure you that our guilt free pre-marrital forncating more than made up for whatever it is you think we're missing out on. So, thanks for the concern, but can this absurd supposition PLEASE stop coming up? Other people telling me how I feel sets my teeth on edge.

      October 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • derp

      "afterall everything is in their hands and they're in total control of everything with nobody to report to."

      Yes, we are. Thank you!

      October 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Atheists actually care how our actions will affect others, humanity now, and the future of our species. In respect to appeasing a magical fairy with our worship that seems a little more important.

      October 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Nonimus

      False pity.
      There has to be sin in that somewhere, right?

      October 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Ephemeral

      Nonimus, it is pure hubris. The overweening pride that angers all gods and humans.

      October 3, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  12. ginger

    Oh jeez, lets get through this election first....
    Hey, PTB, I'm not voting again until you give me a viable and sane female candidate for at least vice president, and preferably Dem or independent- in other words, not Palin or Bachmann. (oy)

    October 3, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  13. trex

    How many Americans of voting age now will be ALIVE in 2024?

    October 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. MattNAustin

    CNN, can you MORONS please forget about the election in 2012, the election in 2016, and all the other stupid BS crap that y'all use to fill tv time, and talk about real important issues that WE citizens should be concerning ourselves with. Nobody knows what the hell is going to happen by 2024 so lets focus on righting this ship by informing the masses rather than your fictional BS.

    October 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  15. Capercorn

    Wait... Huntsman has nuanced views on a variety of hot button issues, AND HE'S A REPUBLICAN!?

    I have faith in humanity again!

    October 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  16. Erik

    Huntsman believes in evolution because he's hoping Republican primary voters will one day evolve to support his positions!

    October 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • trex

      .....EVOLVE?...have ....you SEEN these MORONS?.............NO WAY, JOSE.................

      October 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Technically speaking they could have already evolved.... to fill the stupid niche which is apparently beneficial in this country (especially for reproduction). There is no wrong or right way to evolve as long as it allows you to reproduce more.... 🙁

      October 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
1 2
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.