How Much of An Impact Will Religion Play in SC Primary Vote?

The latest poll shows a tight 3-man race between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul in next week’s GOP Presidential Primary in South Carolina.

Many political pundits say South Carolina is for the battleground state for the evangelical vote. However, Clemson political science professor Dave Woodard says if the past is any indication, religion will not singlehandedly influence the outcome.

Woodard says 7 out of every 10 voters he has polled in the Upstate say they go to church once a week. “7 On Your Side” wanted to find out if religion will make a difference in your vote?

Clemson political science professor Dave Woodard polls South Carolina voters who don’t like to talk about religion and politics those issues. Woodard says, “Especially if you ask them direct questions about Romney being a Mormon, Santorum a Catholic, Gingrich recently converting to Catholicism, they don’t want to talk about that.”

Unlike many voters in the Upstate, very few candidates identify themselves as Protestants. Rick Perry says he was raised in a Methodist Church. Ron Paul says he has accepted Jesus Christ. So, what does that mean to the people?

Woodard says, “Does it guide their vote? Yes. I think it does, but trying to get them to say it, is another thing.”

Even though Woodard says religion plays a big role in what voters do at the ballot box, he says if the past is any indication, it won’t single-handedly influence who wins.

He gives an example, saying, “In 1988, Pat Robertson, a televangelist, beat George H. W. Bush in Iowa, and all the national pundits said he’ll win South Carolina hands down.” But Robertson did not win the South Carolina primary. And neither did Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, in the 2008 South Carolina primary.

So, this time around, Woodard says the voters may keep everyone guessing…again. Woodard says, “It looks like all these Christians wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. They’ll surprise you. It looks like all these Christians would have voted for Pat Robertson. They didn’t, and so each time, you can’t go with the stereotype.”

Woodard says so far, much of the debate between candidates has been about economic issues.

But in the final days before South Carolina’s primary, if the talk turns to social issues, Woodard says religion will weigh more heavily on voters’ minds.

This Sunday is the last Sunday before the January 21 primary, and candidates plan to spend that day trying to capture the evangelical vote. Rick Perry and Rick Santorum plan to attend the “Faith and Freedom Prayer Breakfast” in Myrtle Beach. And Jon Huntsman’s campaign says he will be attending a church service. The location has not yet been announced. “7 On Your Side” reached out. to all the campaigns Friday, and we did not receive any more details on other candidates’ schedules.

Source: WSPA News

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