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. Mahmod

    JEWS DID 9/11 and killed Christ

    January 6, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  2. Doc Vestibule

    My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball; but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

    Abortions for all.
    [crowd boos]
    Very well, no abortions for anyone.
    [crowd boos]
    Hmm... Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.
    [crowd cheers and waves miniature flags]

    Lessons in American Politics from Kang and Kodos.

    January 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • captain america

      Do not be deceived doc v is not an American he is a lying, butt in canadian who thinks his opinion is worth something in our country .News Flash Doc your opinion isn't worth a sh it in your own country let alone ours. There's your sign

      January 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @captain america –
      Oh captain, you really are a knucklehead. By the way, I'm born-and-raised in the U.S.A.

      January 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  3. willny

    religion factors into my vote as follows: the more a candidate brings GOD into his or her politics, the less i think of them.

    January 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  4. BlueDestiny

    I started to say "Not at all", but then thought, "wait, alot of my beliefs and values are founded in religion." Have to give credit where credit is due, and that is always to God. So, while religion as a topic is not the forefront of my vote, my values are. Frankly, though, the broken 2-party system that keeps us slaves to special-interest serving criminals that are elected to office with vieled campaign rhetoric, only to turn around and serve two masters; their own sacred cows and their campaign contributor special interests. The system is so broken, its criminal.

    January 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  5. vol245

    Religion does factor into my vote. If the candidate is very religious, I won't vote for them.

    January 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  6. Tr1Xen

    I must be a New Hampshire conservative then, despite living in Texas. I tend to agree with Republicans on economic matters, but they lose me with the religion... I guess that makes me libertarian, although I almost never vote 3rd party since (at least with our current system), it's like throwing your vote away. I just have to choose the issues that matter most to me (currently the economy) and cast my vote based on those issues, in spite of the fact that I frequently disagree with a candidate's positions on social issues. I voted for Kerry in 2004 because I was tired of Bush's attempts to cram religion down our throats. I wish we didn't constantly have to choose the lesser of two evils. I think we missed our chance to have a really good president when we elected Obama instead of McCain. I'm afraid we're back to the "lesser of two evils" game again.

    January 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Binky42

      If everyone who thought voting for a third party meant throwing your vote away actually DID vote for a third party, we would finally see some change in this country. Even if a third party candidate didn't have enough votes to win, it would send a message that a third party is a viable option, and in the future more people might be swayed away from the broken two-party system we have.

      January 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  7. steve

    The only way it factors in for me is if the candidate is too extreme in their religious views, then I check them off my list. For example Bachman and Santorum. And citing God in every speech and saying God wants you to run really creeps me out.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Charles

      Roger that.

      January 6, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I second your 'Roger that'

      January 6, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Mbane18

    If you believe the earth is 4000 years old or you pray when you make decisions or are looking for signs from God or think that God only blesses America, than yes, that would influence my vote.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  9. Caveman73

    If you have to pray to make a decision then you have lost my confidence in you as a leader and you've lost my vote as well.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  10. Guest

    Religion makes a huge difference in how I vote
    If a candidate talks about religion I dont vote for them

    January 6, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  11. Dan586

    How much does religion factor into your vote? Let me ask my invisible Pink Polka Dotted Elephant friend standing in the room. YEP ! it matters he says.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  12. Dan586

    I would say never but republicans are extremist when it comes to religion. Look at what George W. Bush did to the country all based on his religous belief system. So with that in mind religion is very important to me. I will NEVER vote for a presidential candidate that makes decision based on his religious background.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  13. Stan Robinson

    Damn right that religion figures into my voting - anyone who's making a big deal out of their religion will NEVER get my vote. I'm sick of the religious whackos' constant assault on the secular core of our government.

    January 6, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  14. Person

    I take Religion into account, simply because if a candidate expects some man in the sky that may or may not exist to do all the work for them, I'd vote for an inanimate object before them.

    January 6, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  15. Charlie

    We have far bigger problems like too much spending, excessive debt, excessive taxation, and over regulation to worry about ones religion.

    January 6, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Saucy Jack

      If a candidate intends to rely on an invisible friend to guide his decisions on major issues, then his religion absolutely is improtant to know.

      January 6, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  16. Bill Lazzarini

    So putting an Atheist in charge would not be a problem for most people, that is if you are claiming religion does not matter when it comes to your decision making, and that is 64% of you taking this poll. Do you want to vote again?!

    January 6, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Lynara

      No, I don't want to vote again. Electing an atheist is fine with me. I'd rather someone lead us with logic than misplaced faith.

      January 6, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • MCO

      I would happily vote for an Atheist over some 'born-again' nut job. Who wants someone in the White House with their finger on the nuke button who thinks that the world is about to end because their deity's return is imminent? There's really no incentive for a 'Christian' to try and find a peaceful solution for strife in the middle east because in their minds the current situation may be the trigger that causes their end of time myth to become a reality.

      Give me a level headed Atheist over any flavor of Religious candidate any day of the week.

      January 6, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Jimmy

      Bill just can't believe it, lol. I feel sorry that some people can't realize that there are great people out in the world that want to do good but don't follow a religion. Why is it that hard to understand?

      January 6, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • faustus

      I tend to believe that faith doesn't make a difference to me. There have been terrible atheist leaders such as Mao, Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and Pol Pot. There have been terrible religious leaders such as Mary Queen of Scots. I tend vote based on issues.

      January 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  17. Romney Un-Electible

    A REAL Christian will never vote for Romney!

    January 6, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • MCO

      Why? Mormons are just Christians with an extra helping of crazy sauce. You're all crazy... what's a little magic underwear between psychotics?

      January 6, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Mbane18

      Yes, because Christianity is actually a very liberal and socialist religion where people help one another, share what they have and care for those less fortunate. It's a religion of Peace and forgiveness. I never understood what makes evangelicals and mormons vote republican. Republicans stand for all that goes against Christianity.

      January 6, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Binky42

      A REAL Christian will take note of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:21 "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

      In other words, He was completely against religious involvement in politics and would not dismiss Romney on the basis of his religious beliefs.

      January 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • faustus

      Blinky and Mbane,

      You guys hit the nail on the head. Christianity if actually followed does not lead to greed and war. It is actually people who ruined the religion. Unfortunately, when have a large group of people following politics are involved because there is power in large bases.

      What about a Muslim becoming president? The founding fathers actually had a favorable view of the religion.

      January 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Mbane18

      Binky42, I real Christian will not take stuff out of contest either. This is not about his religion but about the policies and actions of the Republican paty. War mongering, looking out for the rich and corporations, extreme capitalistic practices, everyone for themselves and so on...That my friend is why Romney would be dismissed. He can hide behind his religion all he wants. It only makes him a hypocrate.

      January 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Binky42

      If it's not about his religion why did you post your opinion in an article purely about religion? You're trying to double-back because you hate Mormons. Admit it.

      January 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  18. Binky42

    How many GLBT teens have committed suicide thanks to the intolerant message "Focus on the Family" has sent to parents around this nation? Yeah, it's real Christian to teach parents to hate their children because they're different.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:52 am |

    i find it funny that if Jesus was alive to day he wouldn't be able to get the GOP's presidential nomination because hes a socialist....

    January 6, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  20. Binky42

    Religion factors into my vote a lot. Not my religion, but the religious extremism of the candidate. Religion has absolutely no place in a political platform, and I will not vote for anyone who quotes Bible verses to justify policies or who brags about being in the pew on Sunday.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • urthlvr

      I'm with you Binky42.

      January 6, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Josh

      I couldn't say it better myself.

      January 6, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Charlie

      How one justifies their position matters not to me. What matters to me is it valid. We have Politicians using junk science to push their environmental agenda concerning Anthropogenic Global Warming. To me, those extremist are just as bad.

      January 6, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • HellBent

      And what, @Charlie, would be 'junk' about the science. Please enlighten the rest of us. Tell us why 97% of experts are wrong and just doing 'junk' work.

      January 6, 2012 at 11:17 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.