Florida Evangelicals a different breed of voter than brethren in Iowa, South Carolina
Evangelicals are expected to account for about 40% of the Republican vote on Tuesday's primary in Florida.
January 28th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

Florida Evangelicals a different breed of voter than brethren in Iowa, South Carolina

By John Sepulvado, CNN

(CNN) - Conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed has called the Bible Belt home for decades, but he grew up in Miami in the 1970s, when the city was emerging as a diverse megalopolis.

Among his middle school friends were Jews, Catholics and Methodists.

Then, at age 15, Reed's family relocated to the sleepy mountain town of Toccoa, Georgia, so his dad, a doctor, could take a better-paying job.

“It was very conservative,” says Reed, who now lives outside Atlanta. “At first – as would be true of any 15-year-old – I didn’t like it. I think it was a culture shock.”

Ultimately, the mostly evangelical residents of Toccoa shaped Reed’s faith, helping lead him to Jesus in his 20s. But in terms of his faith-based organizing, the well-known activist drew more on his experiences in hyper-diverse Miami.

"Later on in life, when I became a leader in the Christian Coalition, I had a greater appreciation [for] ethnic and religious diversification,” Reed says.

That could be good news for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is looking to regain momentum from chief rival Newt Gingrich, after the former speaker’s upset in South Carolina, in Florida’s Tuesday primary.

There are signs that Florida’s evangelical voters may be more forgiving of Romney’s past social liberalism than their Iowa and South Carolina brethren – and more willing to support a Mormon candidate.

“I think Romney could do well in Florida,” Reed says.

A more centrist evangelicalism

As a percentage of GOP voters, there are fewer evangelicals in Florida compared to South Carolina and Iowa, where Rick Santorum won the presidential caucuses, according to CNN exit polls from 2008.

In that year, evangelicals accounted for 40% of Republican primary voters in Florida, compared to 60% in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primaries.

And compared to those other early primary states, Florida is much more religiously diverse. In the 2008 primary there, Catholics were nearly a third of the Republican vote, with other kinds of Christians, Jews and those with no religious affiliation each claiming a chunk of the vote.

Still, evangelical Christians claim a bigger share of the Florida Republican vote than any other religious tradition. There also are signs they may be more tolerant of a Mormon candidate than born-again Christians in the Bible Belt and Midwest.

In the South Carolina primary, Romney claimed 22% of the evangelical vote, compared to 44% for Gingrich, according to CNN exit polls.

Florida’s evangelicals are “more open” to the idea of a Mormon in the White House, according to Orlando area pastor Joel C. Hunter.

“Our nature, of being a fairly mobile state, with a lot of tourism and a lot of transcultural and transnational interaction really makes us boundary spanning, rather than sticking to our own affinity groups,” Hunter says.

He leads a congregation of 15,000 at Northland, a Church Distributed, a nondenominational megachurch of the kind that are more popular in Florida than in Iowa or South Carolina.

“For any independent church, you’re going to be open – necessarily open – to non-ready made boundaries, open to other religious groups,” Hunter says. “You’ll be more likely to partner with groups that aren’t necessarily like your own.”

The pastor cites his church’s partnerships with local synagogues and mosques to help local homeless children. For Hunter, teaming up with different religious traditions follows the example of Jesus.

“Jesus talked to the people, the religious leaders others wouldn’t talk to,” he says.

“As an evangelical, I should be ready to talk to a lot of people that aren’t like myself, because that’s what I see in the life of Christ, and I’m looking to build relationships.”

Mark I. Pinsky, the Florida-based author of "A Jew Among Evangelicals," says there are other key differences between evangelicals in Florida and those in Iowa and South Carolina.

“In Iowa,” Pinsky says, “they tend to be rural and older. In South Carolina, they tend to be more fundamentalist, and more likely to be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention,” a denomination that isn’t shy about pointing out theological differences with Mormonism.

Pinsky says Florida evangelicals, especially in the central part of the state, are more likely to have Mormons as neighbors, compared to their brethren in South Carolina and Iowa.

“Nondenominational evangelicals are less likely to demonize someone who is a real person,” Pinsky says.

Less Preaching, More Teaching

Even in smaller Baptist churches in Florida’s Panhandle, there are “notable differences” with Christians in more historically evangelical parts of the country, according to pastor Curtis Clark.

“There’s still a lot of yelling from the pulpit in South Carolina,” says Clark, who leads a congregation of 2,500 at Thomasville Road Baptist Church in Tallahassee. Clark says his congregation is split between Republicans and Democrats, that almost all the adults have college degrees and that the parishioners want to be led, not yelled at.

“I try and teach, try and encourage,” Clark says. “Florida evangelicals are a little bit more educated, and have a broader experience.”

Census figures from 2010 show Florida has a slightly greater share of college graduates than South Carolina.

Both the Romney and Gingrich campaigns are reaching out to evangelicals to quell concerns about their candidacies. Both campaigns held conference calls with influential conservative religious leaders last week, discussing religion, personal and policy decisions.

Many evangelicals have expressed concern about Romney’s past support for abortion rights and gay rights and over Gingrich’s failed marriages.

But Romney doesn’t need to win big among evangelicals to take Florida, Reed says. Because evangelicals make up a smaller portion of Republican voters, Reed says Romney only needs to win a sizeable share of their support.

“If Romney gets a third of evangelical voters” Reed says, “he wins the primary.”

While Romney skipped meeting with some evangelical leaders in South Carolina, including officials at Bob Jones University, his campaign has started more aggressively courting pastors and religious community networks in Florida. The campaign has participated in multiple conference calls with religious leaders and activists.

“In part, I think [the Romney campaign is] more open to outreach by virtue of the Florida demographic,” Reed says.

That suggests the Romney camp suspects Florida’s evangelicals will be more open to his candidacy than other evangelicals in the primary states so far.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Politics

soundoff (1,828 Responses)
  1. TheLord

    Bretheren? Lol, how about banjo country co-conspirators

    January 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  2. cgs

    All religions, including Christians, have outrageous/fantastic beliefs. So what? If it puts you in a nice social group that takes care of each other and promotes service to others it can be very beneficial. Romney has a history of turning things around. Sure, people have to be fired to turn around a business/Olympics and make it healthy. That's what I hope Romney can do for our country. Government is too big. Many government workers/agencies need to be eliminated for our country to become healthy. Time to get over religious bigotry for the sake of our country.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • christopher

      All Gods are lies and phoney. Except for Crom. He is my God and the one true God. I rarely pray to Crom, however, because he never listens.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • ms

      If Obama has his way, they will only be able to take care of themselves. Where it used to be that Christian and Jewish soup kitchens would feed EVERYONE, Obama wants it so that they can only feed themselves! This is part of his war on religious liberty.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Michael

      You are making the assumption that Romney and his company were working with companies to IMPROVE them. There's no evidence of that, they got their enormous fees no matter what happened to the company. Company goes bankrupt, is destroyed, everyone loses their job.. Romney still gets paid. The only way it could be seen as in the best interest of the target company would be if Romney and Co. got paid ONLY if the company flourished.

      January 28, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • tony

      as a Utahan i certain that jarvis and welch(the 2 men who actually did 98%of the work for the utah olympics) were the main reason for the utah olympic success. Mitt was simply a pretty face to put on the college ed scandals,to make things appear better. i honestly don,t give Romney credit as the savior of the olympics. That was/is the spin mainly for his[ at the time]
      future political plans

      January 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • flush limballs

      How dare Obama act like a Christian!!!

      January 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  3. maggie42

    If you want to live in a country where only one religious school of though exists, this is called Saudi Arabia...you can live there, they are taking new applicants. But for now you live in America. If you want to live in a country where NO religion exists, you can create one. But for now you live in America. This nation was not made for only one religion...or to bar people that have no religion at all. Obama says he's a Christian, the vice president is a Jew, Harry Reid is a Mormon (even more Mormony than Romney). Gingrich is a Catholic and believes the Pope is infallible. I don't see what all the fuss is about. There are congressmen and women of all religions, and some with no religions at all. This is who our nation is run by.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • George

      And you think that is good? (rolls eyes)

      And Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country, not Christian. You need to learn some geography and some history of the United States.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • maggie42

      It is good.. i know saudi arabia is a muslim country, enforced by law. if that's what you want, a one religion country enforced by law..it's over there. not here. people make it sound like all the founding fathers had the same religious beliefs...if you would read their writings you would see that they differed. just like catholics and mormons say they are christians, and evangelicals tell them they can't be...ect....there were many views of christianity since the foundation of this country.

      January 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  4. J R Brown

    As an atheist, I've yet to meet more than what I can count on one hand the number of people whom I'd consider true followers of Christianity. Most see it as a social club. Christianity was Facebook before there was Facebook.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • elflander

      A sadly indicting observation.

      On the other hand, I have spent my entire life in the company of people who have taken the teachings of Christ quite seriously. In fact, I sometimes measure myself against some of the people I know and I realize that I am weighed and found wanting.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      JR Brown .. love the FB analogy!

      January 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  5. Answer

    Death cures everything.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • thereturn

      maybe not for the dead, but we could use more.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Answer

      So true on both accounts.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  6. Batter Up

    Can someone out there please enlighten me on what exactly is an Evangelical Christian? Is he/she a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Calvinist, or a Lutheran or something else? We need to define our terms before we start flinging them around.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Michael

      Sure. They are people that walk around imposing their beliefs on others.

      January 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Russ

      "evangelical" comes from the Greek word "euaggelion" which literally translated means "Good News."

      Biblically speaking, "evangelical" simply means one who shares the Good News of Jesus. Politically it is often co-opted to mean other things.

      January 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Batter Up

      So, can someone please point me to a true blue Evangelical Christian? Even Billy Graham can be shown to be anti-Biblical.

      January 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  7. citizenmn

    These Bible thumpers return to their previous status of crazy people and leave governing the country to the sane and tolerant.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  8. Fair Tax Task Force

    The Bible is True – God says it is.

    So, god created man, Adam

    then god created a woman, Eve, from that man (except for the x-y chromosome, presumably genetically identical, a clone if you will).

    Adam and Eve have 2 sons, Cain and Able.

    After that there's a lot of begetting and begatting.

    Who did Cain and Able do their begetting with? Their mother? An unidentified Sister?

    All sounds kind of creepy unless you live in the bible belt, where that still okay.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      Tooooo Funny..

      January 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Lilith

      I was Adams first wife, I went out & had other children with people from "other tribes" just like Cain & Able.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • pervert alert

      lilith did not exist, but apparently bs sells to morons

      January 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Fair Tax Task Force

      Lilith – "other tribes", the the F did they come from?

      If Stephen King wrote the bible, he would be criticized for all of the holes in the plot line.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Lilith

      Pervert – Did my ex Adam deny we were married again? That jerk.
      Where did Cain & Able get their wives perv?

      January 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Lilith

      Fair tax, sorry, it was sarcasm. Just because I was there don't think I believe any of this carp!

      January 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • just sayin

      there was no lilith lilith is full of carp

      January 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Lilith

      Why do you think I didn't exist? Because the version of the bible you know doesn't mention me? There's a lot of the bible that was kept from you "standard" believers.

      January 28, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Cyle in Dublin

      After Cain killed Abel... (he was jealous because he discovered after the fact that god wasn't a vegetarian, god wanted blood sacrifices)

      Genesis 4:16 – Cain went to live in the land of Nod with the people to the east
      Genesis 4:17 – Cain found a wife and had a son Enoch then built the city of Enoch

      Who the people of Nod were? Where they came from? Not mentioned anywhere, logical consistancy is not a requirement of religious text.

      January 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  9. bozster

    There is nothing in evangelical christianity that beatrs any resemblance to the the teachings of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of the Lord is within you. Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and then all else will be given unto you.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  10. Atheists love the believers...

    Why else would they hang out here?- The belief blog!!

    January 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      kind like entertainment.. watching the xtian monkeys who claim they never evolved. Hey, they said it.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Someone's gotta slap you into reality at some point or at least try for our children's/grandchildren's sake ..

      January 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Excuse us....

      but you are the ones that claim your forefathers were chimps, not us 😉

      January 28, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      and you still must be chimps is what I stated.. all points in only one direction..

      January 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Darwin

      No one claims their forefathers were chimps?! If you want to be educated, evolution shows that humans and chimps had a common ancestor. But I'm sure the truth is not something followers want to hear.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • George

      They're trying to take a lot of people to hell with them. They are acting like satan.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Chase those demons out....

      Hope the Believers can chase the demons out of these atheists.

      January 28, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      It's a 'belief' not a 'non-belief', fool!

      January 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  11. Chico Burner


    January 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  12. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    I wasn't sure which God(s) to worship, follow or believe in .. Thor, Zoroastor, Ra, God of Abraham, Hari .. Thank the God of CNN for this article, I now know that Florida's evangelicals have it right!! Whew, that was close!!

    January 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      Zues made it for 7000 years.

      Boy, I'll tell you these christians remind me a lot of the volcano worshipers from cultural anthropology.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      Zeus made it for 7000 years. <– fixed

      Boy, I'll tell you these christians remind me a lot of the volcano worshipers from cultural anthropology.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  13. howash!

    People need to grow up and stop giving in to religious hallucinations. You can't hide from reality, irregardless of what illusory nonsense you believe. Reality happens! To accept religion as something of value or deserving of any respect is to condone stupidity. It's like giving credence to someone who claims that the Earth is flat.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • elflander

      "Irregardless" is not a word.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  14. Andre

    christians are racist bigoted hypocrites... nothing else. i mock their worthless god.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Dylan

      Really? Every single one of them? You do realize that half of the entire population of the USA is Christian, right? For every two people you know, one is Christian and the other atheist. Are they really racist and bigoted? Of course not. Now stop believing everything you hear, see people as people, look at more than at just one opinionated side, and stop the stereotypes, propaganda, and hate that you, yes you, are spreading.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • elflander

      I see your mockery and I raise you.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  15. cgs

    I was exposed to Christianity as a child and had a fondness for it. However I am totally turned off by the bigoted evangelicals. I have watched them embrace candidates like Cain (not enough experience) and Gingrich (Sleazy, pompous, immoral etc....). They have lost all credibility with me. They would hand the election to Obama rather than support the only candidate who can beat him. Romney upheld the laws in a very liberal state when he was governor but he is the only "turn-around-guy" and I believe he is sincere about defunding Obamacare. You may not agree with his religious views but it appears he has been living a very Christian lifestyle.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Diest

      Evangelicals would vote for the Devil himself, just as long as he swore on the Bible that he was sorry. That giant guilt eraser has been worn down to the threads by liars like Gingrich and Cain.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • howash!

      I like "exposed". So true! You were exposed to the religious virus (meme).

      January 28, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jed

      There is a lot of diversity among evangelicals– in theology, practice, and in politics. "Sojourners" has given this liberal Presbyterian exposure to like-minded evangelicals who agree that God does not care who or what group feeds poor people– as long as poor people are being fed. There is a lot of diversity in our Christian family– explore it!

      January 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  16. corntrader19

    How many times have I heard this phrase, "A new take on religion." Too many times! This story is stale. People have been taking liberties with the bible for decades and will continue to do until Jesus comes back to this earth the second time. The bible says the frauds will grow more and more as time goes on. A very good bible teacher once taught me a phrase to remind me of what is false and what is true: "If it's new, it's not true. If it's true, it's not new."

    January 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  17. Come on, be honest for a change..

    When is satan's birthday?

    January 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tounge Sticking Out

      The birthday of Sammael (the angel that Christians converted into Satan) is held to be March 6th by most Gnostics.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  18. Canadian

    This picture says it all.


    January 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      this country only gets worse, until we get better and advance past religion..

      January 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • jon

      Is there ANY chance that these people can just GO AWAY and get out of politics??? Let's pray so.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  19. Come on, be honest for a change..

    To all christians.. Please DO NOT be angry at Jews for killing jesus. It simply didn't happen that way. The Jews were being nice to jesus, they simply made him a wooden airplane.

    he just kept falling off..

    January 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • George

      Trying to stir up an anti-semetic pot? The fact is that the Romans killed Jesus at the behest of a small number of Jewish religious authorities.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Staring Horse with Tounge Sticking Out

      The Romans had Jesus put to death (if it ever happened) and the idiots who wrote the Bible, seeking to convert Romans to Christianity, made up their own story making Jews the scape Goats. Typical Christian lying and cheating. No morals.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  20. .

    Hate-theism has devolved into a religion of bigotry, intolerance and hatred.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • H in Texas

      "Atheism" is not a religion at all, it is more a label made up by small minded people that just can't fathom the idea of not having a religion. FAIL

      January 28, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      kinda like not having a disease is a disease.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      And the gays say so, it must be true. Stick around folks, they'll tell you how they read the Bible cover to cover x-amount of times ... yet, can't tell you what lessons Jesus taught until this blog came out and they copy our answers, turn around and tell their friends how intelligent they are.


      January 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Come on, be honest for a change..

      mmm. now didn't jesus spend a night in the nu-de with John?? read your bible, they engaged..

      January 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Come on, be honest for a change, post the scriptures you are twisting and contorting. LOL.


      January 28, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
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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.