Religion was huge in Iowa, but New Hampshire doesn't want to talk faith
Will religious conservative Rick Santorum connect in New Hampshire?
January 5th, 2012
09:27 AM ET

Religion was huge in Iowa, but New Hampshire doesn't want to talk faith

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - When Kevin Smith took over a New Hampshire Christian advocacy group called Cornerstone Action in 2009, the outfit was so strapped for cash and members that it was in danger of closing down.

So Smith took the group, which is associated with the national evangelical organization Focus on the Family, in a different direction. Instead of just focusing on “family values” causes like opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, as it had been, he began waging campaigns around fiscal matters like reducing taxes and trimming the budget.

The result: The group’s financial support grew tenfold in three years, to $1.2 million, and helped usher Republican supermajorities into the New Hampshire legislature in 2010.

“If we were going to survive we had to have a broader appeal, because of the kind of conservatives that are here,” says Smith, a former aide in the governor’s office who’s now running for governor himself. “Not all of them were with us on social issues.”

Five days before New Hampshire’s Republican primary, Smith’s experience points to a major shifting of gears in the presidential race: While religion played a huge role in the Iowa caucuses - helping fuel Rick Santorum’s last-minute surge there and throwing up hurdles for Mitt Romney, a Mormon - religious faith is not likely to matter much in the Granite State, one of the least religious states in the nation.

That means the candidates will be rejiggering their Iowa-branded messages about faith and family into ones about fiscal matters, like the national debt and the cost of President Barack Obama’s health care plan, before once again dusting off the faith and family rhetoric for the next-in-line South Carolina primary, where evangelicals dominate.

“It’s a big shift of culture from Iowa to New Hampshire, except for the fact that nearly everyone in both states is white,” says Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Connecticut. “For Mitt Romney’s campaign it’s ideal, because they don’t want to talk about religion and neither do voters.”

It may also be good news for Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning candidate who has mostly steered clear of social issues and who finished third in Iowa.

But Santorum may find it hard to translate his socially conservative message to New Hampshire, much as Mike Huckabee did in 2008 after winning the Iowa caucuses. And Newt Gingrich, who worked hard to cultivate Iowa evangelicals, is likely to stress his economic and foreign policy views in New Hampshire.

Rick Perry, meanwhile - the most overtly evangelical candidate left in the presidential race - has signaled he will mostly ignore New Hampshire, tweeting Wednesday: “And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State...Here we come South Carolina!!!”

Evangelical Christians, the Republican voters who care most about hot buttons like abortion, accounted for nearly 60% of caucus-goers in Iowa on Tuesday, helping to carry Santorum to a strong second-place finish.  But they are expected to make up less than a quarter of the vote in New Hampshire next week.

“Even among the evangelical churches that are in the state, they’re not really interested in wanting to be involved in political matters,” says Smith, a Catholic who attends an evangelical-style nondenominational church. “And politicians here would prefer that the churches not to get involved.”

The limited political role of religion helps explain why a slim majority of Republicans who voted in New Hampshire’s last presidential primaries, in 2008, said that abortion should be legal, according to exit polls.

A 2009 Gallup survey found that New Hampshire was the second-least religious state in the country, one of a small handful in which less than 50% of residents said religion is an important part of their daily lives.

“New England and particularly northern New England has a lot of people called ‘nones,’” says Trinity College’s Silk, referring to people who claim no religious affiliation. They account for the fastest growing segment of the American religious landscape.

“Boston was the epicenter of the priest abuse scandal,” Silk says, “and a lot of marginal Catholics have drifted away.”

Catholicism and mainline Protestantism are still the dominate religious modes in New England. But even New Hampshirites who are religious tend to be reluctant to inject their faith into political debates.

“I’m from New Hampshire, and people here are generally people of faith, but they are a lot more private about their religious views,” says Jamie Burnett, a Republican consultant who is unaffiliated with any presidential candidate.

Burnett was New Hampshire political director for the Romney campaign in 2008 and says Romney was asked about his Mormonism just once in his many trips there.

“It’s the kind of thing that comes up a lot in Iowa, not New Hampshire,” says Burnett.

Silk says New Englanders’ public reticence about religion is a result of entrenched Yankee Protestants and more newly arrived Irish Catholics working past religion-based political tensions in the mid-20th century.

“There was a kind of tacit agreement that religion is not going to be part of electoral politics, in light of a history of Yankee and Catholic political fights,” says Silk. “It helps explain why Michael Dukakis and Howard Dean and John Kerry didn’t do a good job talking about religion on the stump.”

And why, in New Hampshire this week, the Republican candidates won’t have to do that kind of stump work.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: New Hampshire • Politics

soundoff (255 Responses)
  1. Charmota


    January 6, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Binky42

      According to the US Census, only 76% of Americans are Christian now. That used to be more like 99%. Worried yet?

      January 6, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  2. William Demuth

    Mark from Middle River

    Good New Year to you sir!

    Taxing ALL charitable contributions is the only fair way to handle giving.

    If you want to give, YOU give, but not by bypassing the US Treasury. Your tax burden is to Americans, and we should sorely limit any loop holes for giving to anything that transfers resources from us (citizens) to anything or anyone else.

    You know as well as I do that HUGE amounts of money are sent to political causes on both sides that have ZERO nobility to them.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  3. Jimmy

    I also voted in the poll incorrectly. Religion does play a role in my vote, I will be sure to not vote for the most religious candidate that is Santorum juice in this case. Voting for social issues before the economy in the state our country is in is brainless, the fools in Iowa are just that fools.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  4. William Demuth

    Living proof the Southern and Central states are retrograde.

    Luckily Jeebus himself cold run, and they would all condemn his morality.

    Its high time we drag the rednecks into the 21st century, before they drag us back into the 2nd.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  5. Isaac

    The poll means absolutely nothing because the question means two entirely different things depending on how you read it. You could say that you vote how you vote because of your religion, but if you're not religious you could be FORCED to vote the way you do to counteract the zealotry of others. I'm in that latter category.

    January 6, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • Elin

      That’s why I voted “a lot.” I vote for the candidate who seems to rely on religion the least, as I firmly believe that religion has no place in the government.

      January 6, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • jomac

      I too voted a lot. Not because I am religious, but because I think that politicians who believe that their religion gives them God's support for their policies are dangerous.

      January 6, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  6. Reality

    Only for the "newbies":

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Newton Leroy Gingrich, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)
    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

    January 6, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • ama01

      Wow – that's a pretty big chip you're carrying around. Believe it or not, some people's religion focused on more than just birth control and abortion rights.

      January 6, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Probing Uranus

      I bet you're gay.

      January 6, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  7. tafugate

    i answered the poll wrong. i said a candidate's religion means nothing to me, but that's not exactly true. religion means nothing to ME, but i do pay attention to how whacked out on religion candidates are.

    January 6, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  8. G. Washington

    Not Catholic. Not Mormon. Don't care what religion you are. I think family values are a good thing, not a bad thing. Rather vote for a guy that actually believes what he says – even when I sometimes disagree – than vote for a guy that I'm not sure what he really believes. I will vote for CHARACTER in 2012. I think Santorum and a couple others best fit into this category. I think we can definately count on New Hampshire folks to come through!

    January 6, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • AGeek

      Santorum *is* a character, he does not *have* character. Seriously. The guy is a walking caricature.

      January 6, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • William Demuth


      I wonder how you will feel about his morality, when Martha is gang banged by Hessians after being doped up on GHB, and Santorum FORCES her to have the child.

      January 6, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  9. JEM

    Its RON PAUL or U.S. Bankruptcy, More Wars and Many More Dead Solders.

    January 6, 2012 at 4:12 am |
    • Rick

      Ron Paul is too old to be president, silly old fart can't even stand up straight anymore. he should be looking for a nursing home to move into!

      January 6, 2012 at 4:21 am |
    • MCO

      Besides the age thing with Ron Paul he's a few fries short of a happy meal. Nobody with any sense is going to vote for the crazy old guy. Nobody.

      January 6, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  10. doctore0

    Religion + politics = BOMM BANG ... NEVER MIX

    January 6, 2012 at 3:54 am |
  11. geekofband007

    As a New Hampshirite I have seen many political candidates roll through. This is not really the case lately though because my side of the state tends be visited more by democratic and liberal candidates. Overall, NH is a socially liberal and fiscally conservative state. Don't take our money and don't tell us what we can and cannot do. New Hampshire voters also vote on the issues. We don't care if candidate goes to church every Sunday and prays every night before he/she goes to bed. This does not concern us and won't sway most New Hampshire voters. We want to know what the candidates are going to do with our money. How are they going to fix the economy? What kind of plan do they have for healthcare? If a candidate comes to New Hampshire and starts spouting of how they are a strong christian with strong christian values and will ban gay marriage, end abortions, and stop stem-cell research, they might as well be digging their own grave in terms of votes. New Hampshire is a feisty little state that votes on the issues. Not on your religion. I think this is one of the biggest reasons New Hampshire has one of the first primaries.

    January 6, 2012 at 3:26 am |
  12. trollol

    Instant fail. Religion should have no place in politics.

    January 6, 2012 at 2:51 am |
  13. xrk9854

    Most of the comments here have NOTHING to do with the article.

    This is New Hampshire and we don't believe in mixing politics and religion. So Rick Santorum running around and spouting religion isn't going to work here. In fact it'll probably hurt. I found some of the comments he made at a town hall style meeting yesterday down right insulting. IMO the man is a BIGOT. And we don't vote for BIGOTS here.

    January 6, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  14. VegasRage

    Leave religion out of it, damn stuff has ruined the world!

    January 6, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  15. RichardSRussell

    The only way religion should matter in ANY democracy is if some candidate says (or otherwise lets you know) that "If elected, I promise to use the tools of government to implement my religious beliefs.". THAT should be an instant disqualification. In all other cases, it shouldn't matter squat.

    January 6, 2012 at 2:35 am |
    • William Demuth

      That is EXACTLY what Santorum has been saying for over a decade.

      January 6, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  16. Dandy

    You religious nit wits should study the bible a little closer. Have you seen the latest add for the Catholic Church – how they are inviting people back since they think they got that pedophile problem cleared up .. or at least they hope they did. 😉
    Well the Catholic Church says that they assembled the bible... yes, that is right mere humans wrote and put that book together and edited it – Thanks Catholic Church for letting us know that. Now if the rest of you Nit Wits would figure out that it is bunch of stories assembled by people and written by people you would realize that is just a little more factual than the Sunday Cartoons in the newspaper, perhaps you could start thinking about how we can solve some of our problems rather than praying for divine intervention...

    January 6, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wow, name calling. Sigh, and yall are supposed to be the "reasoned" ones and many of you can not rise above simple insults.

      ...yeah, you told us ... ROFL.

      January 6, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • Town Crier

      Hello Mark, Have you been away on holiday? good to see you back

      January 6, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  17. unretired05

    I was going to say religion didn't matter, but I won't vote for some self sacrosanct wacko who thinks he is going to save everyone by forcing his beliefs on them.

    January 6, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Dandy

      Well, that eliminates most of the Candidates.... better move to a progressive country like Canada or Mexico.... or a banana republic down south...

      January 6, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Unfortunately, here in Canada we have our own bible thumping asshole Stephen Harper, so you are best to head south.

      January 6, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  18. Mezmama

    OK, here's the REAL context of John Lennon's "The Beatles are more powerful than Jesus" quote. I read the actual article which contained the interview. He said what he said to mean that it was incredulous to him that people were more interested in the Beatles than they were in their religion. He was NOT trying to be superior in any way. He just couldn't understand all the adulation the band received. The article was published in the Mirror, if I remember correctly, but it was so long ago that I really am not sure, other than that it was in an English newspaper. It really angers me every time that quote is brought up because it is always misinterpreted in a negative light.

    January 6, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Praise God

      I always kind of thought he meant "bigger than" to simply mean more people interested at the time which wasn't necessarily a good thing. I don't dislike him saying that nearly as much as I disliked the song Imagine being so anti-religious. I like John Lennox (the mathematician from Oxford) who put it well – imagine a world with no atheists – no Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot!

      January 6, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Isaac

      None of those despots are atheists. Atheists don't believe in God, but Communism is a political system where the government IS your god. There's a difference there for those who can see it.

      January 6, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  19. Bullet

    The bible teaches thou shalt not kill, but if you read the bible from get to go it is filled with millions of killings.

    January 6, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • Praise God

      The commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill is clear. Anything else in the old testament needs to be understood in context. The fact is humans are imperfect at hearing God – as evidence I offer the simple fact of so many disagreements even today. Back then people were more primitive. God chose and purified a people for a reason – to bring salvation to all mankind. To do that, God protected those people, including by having them defeat neighboring tribes who tried to kill them. Like the Phillistines who had the giant Goliath. So you really need to be careful when you talk about killing. I mean do you agree with the US being in WW 2 or not? If you do (and I do) don't you agree it was for a just cause? Ok, then if there is a just cause, it makes a difference. Again, in the old testament, what you don't seem to realize is God had a just cause to protect His chosen people. And you know, if God takes anyone's life – He's taking that life to Himself. Eternal life is far greater than our temporal life on earth. You can't just call it unjust if God is ending people's temporal lives for a greater purpose when He can be granting eternal life to all those people. In short, if you're saying the "millions of killings" (which was a false exaggeration on your part) because you don't understand, well I hope that helped. If you were saying it to make a theological complaint against God to protest that God could do such things and still be a loving God, well I just showed you why your complaint is false.

      January 6, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Michael

      @praise god, all you did was spin talk, you compartmentalize the stories of God telling Abraham to kill his son just for a test, the flood that supposedly killed everyone on earth, the fog he sent to kill first born sons of the people he wanted to vanquish, the quotes in the bible that condone killing non believers, and adulterers at the gates of the city using stones. You compartmentalize the bad things, you wash it away by saying NUH UH CHRISTIANITY IS PURE, you have issues, deal with them. Dealing with religious people like you is a lot like dealing with habitual liars, you can explain all the negative away with blatant lies.

      January 6, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • HellBent

      @Praise God,
      I'm very curious. In what context should I read that god says its ok if I beat my slaves to death, just so long as they don't die right away. What context makes that passage good and moral?

      January 6, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  20. Bullet

    If all of the so-called churches would pay their share of income and property taxes in this country we could pay off the national debt in a year.

    January 6, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Bob65536

      [citation needed]

      January 6, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • Lewtwo


      January 6, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      How about saying all non-profits so that your argument doesn't sound so bitterly hate based?

      You ready to tax the boy scouts and girl scouts. Maybe PBS, or the homeless shelters? Or is it because you have a ax to grind with the churches, mosques and synagogues that you made your suggestion?

      January 6, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • Reality

      An extended and faster way to pay off the national debt:

      How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?:

      Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
      There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror like 9/11.

      One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

      Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

      Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

      Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
      There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

      The Mormon empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

      Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
      Abraham and Moses never existed.

      Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

      All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

      Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a Twitter and FaceBook campaign!!!!

      January 6, 2012 at 8:08 am |
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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.