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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Associated Press/Photo by Nati Harnik, File
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Whom do evangelical insiders favor in 2016?

Campaign 2016 | Marco Rubio leads, former favorites flop in 2016 questionnaire responses

WASHINGTON—Good news for Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Carly Fiorina. Mixed news for Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. Bad news for Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson. And if anyone thought Donald Trump or Chris Christie were picking up support from evangelical leaders, pop that bubble.

Those are the findings (see below for complete results) from a survey of nearly 100 evangelical leaders and insiders. Numerous 2016 GOP candidates have identified evangelicals as a key part of their road to the White House, so WORLD, the leading evangelical news magazine, recently asked 103 evangelical leaders and insiders to see whom they prefer. Ninety-four responded.

Each month, WORLD will sample this mix and reveal results that are not scientific or representative of all evangelicals, but offer a snapshot of how well-connected evangelical insiders are leaning—and it looks like they are looking for a winner rather than someone identified as one of them.

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WORLD’s first snapshot shows 39 percent of respondents naming Rubio as either their first or second choice. Bush ranked second as the first or second option for 32 percent of respondents. Walker came in third at 28 percent. But when asked to choose their favorite from among the top four GOP candidates in current polls (Trump, Bush, Walker, and Rubio) Rubio at 40 percent and Walker at 33 percent were the clear leaders.

Bush received 23 percent in that frontrunner match-up, but 26 percent of evangelical insiders said they would “absolutely” not vote for him in primaries. Trump, who has claimed to have evangelical support, received only 4 percent of those votes, and 75 percent said they absolutely would not vote for him in primaries. Very few respondents said they wouldn’t consider voting for Rubio (8 percent) or Walker (9 percent).

Given the sensitive positions of some participants, WORLD has agreed not to name them, but will quote some in monthly stories. 

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“Trump’s rhetoric and abrasive personality serves to exacerbate the liberal media’s depiction of the white, angry, male conservative spokesperson,” said survey participant Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Christie, who received only one first- or second-place vote, also induced a strong negative reaction from 62 percent of the participants.

Among candidates outside the top four in current polls, Cruz made a strong showing as the first or second choice of 25 percent of participants, but 20 percent said they would absolutely not vote for him in primaries. Fiorina, little-known several months ago, was the first choice of 10 percent and the second choice of an additional 7 percent, while 15 percent disdained her. John Kasich was the first or second choice of 5 percent, but 35 percent said they would not vote for him in primaries. Rand Paul had 3 percent support and 44 percent negatives.

The survey also suggests Huckabee, with four first-choice votes, and Santorum and Carson, each with zero, are not gaining significant support from evangelical leaders, although Huckabee did so in 2008 and Santorum in 2012. Respondents felt Huckabee (24 percent) has done the best job of evangelical outreach, and smaller numbers praised the outreach efforts of Cruz and Bush.

When asked “What are the top three issues you will consider when selecting a candidate,” 69 percent cited domestic religious freedom and 56 percent abortion. Foreign policy came in third at 27 percent and Supreme Court nominations at 25 percent. Only 14 percent chose immigration and only 3 percent cited Healthcare/Affordable Care Act.

Participant George Barna, a leading researcher and executive director of the American Culture and Faith Institute, said it’s not surprising domestic religious freedom topped the list of evangelical concerns.

“Religious liberty continually emerges in all of my national research as one of the top issues that concern Christian conservatives,” he said. “Many … believe that if religious liberty is reduced or even eliminated, potentially all other freedoms will be destroyed as well.”

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WORLD’s survey of evangelical leaders and insiders

The complete results from the July 30 survey

1. If the presidential election were today, which declared candidate do you prefer?

Marco Rubio, 19.1%, 18
Jeb Bush, 14.9%, 14
Ted Cruz, 13.8%, 13
Scott Walker, 13.8%, 13
Carly Fiorina, 9.6%, 9
Bobby Jindal, 6.4%, 6
Mike Huckabee, 4.3%, 4
John Kasich, 4.3%, 4
Rick Perry, 4.3%, 4
Donald Trump, 3.2%, 3
Hillary Clinton, 2.1%, 2
Rand Paul, 2.1%, 2
Lindsey Graham, 1.1%, 1
Bernie Sanders, 1.1%, 1
Ben Carson, 0.0%, 0
Chris Christie, 0.0%, 0
Martin O’Malley, 0.0%, 0
Rick Santorum, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 94
Skipped: 0

2. On a scale of 1-to-5, how excited are you about this candidate?

1-Disappointed, 0
2-Lukewarm, 6
3-Satisfied, 16
4-Happy, 49
5-Elated, 23    
Average response: 3.95

Answered: 94 
Skipped: 0

3. Who is your second choice?

Marco Rubio, 19.8%, 18
Jeb Bush, 17.6%, 16
Scott Walker, 14.3%, 13
Ted Cruz, 11.0%, 10
Carly Fiorina, 6.6%, 6
Mike Huckabee, 6.6%, 6
Bobby Jindal, 5.5%, 5
Rick Perry, 4.4%, 4
Rick Santorum, 4.4%, 4
Ben Carson, 2.2%, 2
Donald Trump, 2.2%, 2
Chris Christie, 1.1%, 1
Hillary Clinton, 1.1%, 1
John Kasich, 1.1%, 1
Martin O’Malley, 1.1%, 1
Rand Paul, 1.1%, 1
Lindsey Graham, 0.0%, 0
Bernie Sanders, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 91 
Skipped: 3

4. According to a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio are the top four contenders for the GOP nomination for president. Which of these candidates do you prefer?

Marco Rubio, 39.8%, 37
Scott Walker, 33.3%, 31
Jeb Bush, 22.6%, 21
Donald Trump, 4.3%, 4

Answered: 93 
Skipped: 1

5. Who will you absolutely not vote for in the primaries? (Check as many as apply.)

Hillary Clinton, 86.8%, 79
Bernie Sanders, 81.3%, 74
Martin O’Malley, 76.9%, 70
Donald Trump, 74.7%, 68
Chris Christie, 63.7%, 58
Lindsey Graham, 52.7%, 48
Rand Paul, 44.0%, 40
Ben Carson, 35.2%, 32
John Kasich, 35.2%, 32
Rick Santorum, 27.5%, 25
Jeb Bush, 26.4%, 24
Mike Huckabee, 25.3%, 23
Ted Cruz, 19.8%, 18
Bobby Jindal, 16.5%, 15
Rick Perry, 16.5%, 15
Carly Fiorina, 15.4%, 14
Scott Walker, 8.8%, 8
Marco Rubio, 7.7%, 7

Answered: 91 
Skipped: 3

6. What are the top three issues you will consider when selecting a candidate?

Religious freedom (domestic), 69.2%, 63
Abortion, 56.0%, 51
Foreign policy, 27.5%, 25
Supreme Court nominations, 25.3%, 23
Marriage and family issues, 24.2%, 22
Federal debt/deficit, 18.7%, 17
National security/terrorism, 17.6%, 16
Economy/jobs, 16.5%, 15
Immigration, 14.3%, 13
Religious freedom (international), 8.8%, 8
Other (please specify), 8, 8
Taxes, 6.6%, 6
Education, 4.4%, 4
Environment/pollution, 3.3%, 3
Healthcare/Affordable Care Act, 3.3%, 3
Race relations, 2.2%, 2
Crime, 1.1%, 1

Answered: 91 
Skipped: 3

7. Which candidate has done the best job of outreach to evangelicals?

Mike Huckabee, 24.7%, 21
Ted Cruz, 21.2%, 18
Jeb Bush, 14.1%, 12
Ben Carson, 9.4%, 8
Marco Rubio, 7.1%, 6
Rick Santorum, 5.9%, 5
Scott Walker, 5.9%, 5
Rick Perry, 4.7%, 4
Carly Fiorina, 3.5%, 3
Bobby Jindal, 1.2%, 1
John Kasich, 1.2%, 1
Rand Paul, 1.2%, 1
Chris Christie, 0.0%, 0
Hillary Clinton, 0.0%, 0
Lindsey Graham, 0.0%, 0
Martin O’Malley, 0.0%, 0
Bernie Sanders, 0.0%, 0
Donald Trump, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 85 
Skipped: 9

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD Magazine's Washington Bureau chief. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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