You Gotta Have Faith: Is Religion Playing Major Role In GOP Primary?

By Matthew L. Higgins
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Rick Santorum (left) and Mitt Romney look to win delegates during tonight's primary races in Michigan and Arizona. (credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

Rick Santorum (left) and Mitt Romney look to win delegates during tonight’s primary races in Michigan and Arizona. (credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Religion is expected to play a prominent role in this GOP primary, but is it?

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 65 percent of Rick Santorum supporters believe a candidate’s religious beliefs matter when voting for president, compared to 59 percent of Mitt Romney supporters saying one’s faith doesn’t matter.

Santorum’s religious views have played well with his supporters as evidenced with his stand against abortion and gay marriage and primary wins in Mississippi and Alabama.

“I can certainly see Santorum’s views on contraception and abortion link directly to evangelicals,” Dr. William D’Antonio, fellow at the Institute of Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, told CBSDC. “He resonates well with evangelicals.”

One big issue that could help Romney and Santorum steal votes away from President Obama is the opposition the Catholic Church has to the health care law, specifically dealing with contraception, an issue both GOP candidates jumped on when the administration originally wanted religious-based institutions covering costs of contraception for women.

“(The bishops) are objecting to having to pay out any insurance policies that include contraception to them,” D’Antonio said. “This is an issue about freedom of religion.”

Surprisingly, the Christian Coalition feels that religion has not played a part in this year’s election cycle.

“I don’t think religion is playing a role in the primary,” Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs told CBSDC. “I think that among these candidates, they are more concerned about the economy and who can beat President Obama.”

Combs added that she doesn’t see a problem with evangelicals voting for Romney, who is a Mormon, if he ends up winning the GOP nomination. Romney has not faced a backlash for his religious views like he did in 2008.

“Anti-Mormonism has been seen anecdotally,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia, told CBSDC, adding though, “a substantial number of evangelicals prefer not to vote for a Mormon.”

Sabato feels that despite this, Christian conservatives still want Obama out of office.

“The vast majority of white evangelicals will vote against Obama in November, likely around 80 percent,” Sabato said. “That means voting for Romney if he is the nominee.”

Despite Santorum being Catholic, Romney has been getting more support from that base.

“Romney is getting support from the upper-income Catholics,” D’Antonio said. “Santorum is getting a majority of the evangelic and protestant vote.” D’Antonio added that Santorum’s lack of support among Catholics might be because of his stance on abortion and contraception.

Sabato believes that Romney is getting more of the Catholic vote than Santorum because they are moderate.

“Santorum is Catholic, like (Newt) Gingrich, but Catholics have backed Romney in most states,” Sabato said. “Perhaps they remember JFK and resent religious prejudice, or maybe they are just more moderate than evangelicals.”

Romney and Santorum will continue looking for religious voters over the weekend as Missouri holds its caucus Saturday and Puerto Rico holds its primary Sunday.

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