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Marco Rubio (left) and Ted Cruz facing off at Tuesday night’s GOP debate.
Associated Press/Photos by John Locher
Marco Rubio (left) and Ted Cruz facing off at Tuesday night’s GOP debate.

Evangelical insiders coalesce around Rubio, Cruz

Campaign 2016 | Results from WORLD’s monthly survey show growing concern about a Trump nomination

WASHINGTON—An increasing number of evangelical insiders are coalescing their support around Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas as angst grows over a possible Donald Trump nomination for president.

Those are among the findings in WORLD’s sixth evangelical insiders survey, a monthly snapshot of how a group of influential evangelical leaders are leaning in the 2016 presidential contest. Eighty-four of the 103 participants completed the December survey, which ended immediately following Tuesday night’s GOP debate. The results are not scientific, nor are they representative of all evangelicals.

Rubio came out on top for the sixth month in a row, but Cruz gained significant ground for the second straight month—possibly taking advantage of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s withdrawal last month (which left seven votes up for grabs). Cruz climbed to 52 percent in combined first- and second-choice support, closing to within 14 combined percentage points of Rubio after trailing by 36 points in October.

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“Cruz gives voice to small government conservatives, many of whom are in the ranks of the evangelical movement,” said survey participant Erick Erickson, a radio host and founder of the RedState political website. “After all, if you are a Christian, you know we are all sinners and will gravitate to a candidate promising to reduce the number of sinners controlling your life.”

Rubio’s first-choice support dropped for the first time in the survey, but his combined first- and second-choice tally rose from 63 percent in November to 66 percent this month.

“Rubio relates to evangelicals on faith topics in ways few do and has made a concerted effort to woo faith leaders and faith opinion leaders in the country,” said Erickson, who has no plans to endorse a candidate.

Trump received no first-choice votes for the first time in the survey. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they “absolutely” would not vote for the billionaire businessman in the primaries.

“I’m hoping that some of the less-likely GOP candidates will put the interests of the nation before their personal interests and drop out and throw their support to anybody but Trump,” said survey participant Wayne Grudem, an author and theologian who co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

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When asked to choose a candidate from the top four in national polls (Trump, Cruz, Rubio, or Ben Carson), 95 percent of the survey participants selected Rubio (59 percent) or Cruz (36 percent). The remaining 5 percent chose Carson, who continued to fade in this month’s results.

The former neurosurgeon’s decline has corresponded to both Cruz’s surge and the rising importance of national security following recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Domestic religious liberty (62 percent) and abortion (52 percent) again topped the list of election concerns for evangelical insiders, but national security/terrorism (35 percent) ranked third for the second straight month. When combined with foreign policy (24 percent), the twin issues top abortion for second place.

“Americans are looking for the candidate they know will take a bold stand to protect America,” said survey participant Tonya Shellnutt, Concerned Women for America’s state director for South Carolina—who has not endorsed a candidate but said Cruz has built a strong ground game in her early primary state.

The focus on national security has breathed new life into New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign, particularly in New Hampshire, but he continues to be a non-starter for WORLD’s survey respondents. Forty-two percent said they would “absolutely” not vote for him, and he remains one of the few candidates who have not received a single first-choice vote in any survey.

Only 7 percent said they wouldn’t consider voting for Rubio or former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, both of whom tied for the fewest negative votes of any of the candidates. Eighteen percent said they would not vote for Cruz, who received the third fewest responses to the question. To further expand his evangelical support, Erickson said Cruz “needs to sound a bit more personable to people of faith and not like he is in perpetual campaign mode.

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A new question this month asked survey participants if they support Trump’s proposal to halt Muslim immigration to the United States in light of the growing terrorist threat. More than three out of four of the evangelical insiders surveyed said they would not endorse such a policy, but respondents expressed a variety of nuanced perspectives on the topic. WORLD will explore their responses in more detail in an online article on Friday (see “Agree or disagree with the Donald”).

WORLD’s survey of evangelical leaders and insiders

The complete results from the Dec. 17 survey

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

Marco Rubio, 38.1%, 32
Ted Cruz, 29.8%, 25
Jeb Bush, 7.1%, 6
Carly Fiorina, 4.8%, 4
Mike Huckabee, 4.8%, 4
John Kasich, 3.6%, 3
Ben Carson, 2.4%, 2
Hillary Clinton, 2.4%, 2
Rand Paul, 2.4%, 2
Lindsey Graham, 1.2%, 1
Rick Santorum, 1.2%, 1
Other, 1.2%, 1
Undecided, 1.2%, 1
Chris Christie, 0.0%, 0
Martin O’Malley, 0.0%, 0
Bernie Sanders, 0.0%, 0
Donald Trump, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 84
Skipped: 0

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

1-Disappointed, 1.2%, 1
2-Lukewarm, 3.7%, 3
3-Satisfied, 17.1%, 14
4-Happy, 47.6%, 39
5-Elated, 30.5%, 25
Average response: 4.02

Answered: 82
Skipped: 2

3. Who is your second choice?

Marco Rubio, 27.7%, 23
Ted Cruz, 21.7%, 18
Jeb Bush, 13.3%, 11
Carly Fiorina, 10.8%, 9
Donald Trump, 6.0%, 5
Chris Christie, 4.8%, 4
Ben Carson, 3.6%, 3
Rick Santorum, 3.6%, 3
Mike Huckabee, 2.4%, 2
John Kasich, 2.4%, 2
Martin O’Malley, 1.2%, 1
Rand Paul, 1.2%, 1
Other, 1.2%, 1
Hillary Clinton, 0.0%, 0
Lindsey Graham, 0.0%, 0
Bernie Sanders, 0.0%, 0 

Answered: 83
Skipped: 1

4. According to a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio have separated themselves from the rest of the GOP field. Which of these candidates do you prefer?

Marco Rubio, 59.0%, 49
Ted Cruz, 36.1%, 30
Ben Carson, 4.8%, 4
Donald Trump, 0.0%, 0

Answered: 83
Skipped: 1

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

Bernie Sanders, 89.3%, 75
Hillary Clinton, 85.7%, 72
Martin O’Malley, 82.1%, 69
Donald Trump, 72.6%, 61
Lindsey Graham, 54.8%, 46
John Kasich, 54.8%, 46 
Rand Paul, 52.4%, 44 
Chris Christie, 41.7%, 35 
Ben Carson, 35.7%, 30 
Mike Huckabee, 34.5%, 29 
Jeb Bush, 33.3%, 28 
Rick Santorum, 33.3%, 28 
Ted Cruz, 17.9%, 15 
Carly Fiorina, 7.1%, 6 
Marco Rubio, 7.1%, 6    

Answered: 84
Skipped: 0

6. What are the top three issues you will consider when selecting a candidate? (Please check only three.)

Religious freedom (domestic), 61.9%, 52 
Abortion, 52.4%, 44 
National security/terrorism, 34.5%, 29 
Supreme Court nominations, 27.4%, 23 
Economy/jobs, 23.8%, 20 
Foreign policy, 23.8%, 20 
Marriage and family issues, 23.8%, 20 
Immigration, 14.3%, 12 
Federal debt/deficit, 13.1%, 11 
Religious freedom (international), 9.5%, 8 
Poverty, 4.8%, 4 
Healthcare/Affordable Care Act, 3.6%, 3 
Education, 2.4%, 2 
Race relations, 2.4%, 2 
Taxes, 2.4%, 2 
Crime, 1.2%, 1 
Environment/pollution, 1.2%, 1

Answered: 84
Skipped: 0

7. Do you support Donald Trump's proposal to halt all Muslim immigration to the U.S.?

Yes, 22.6%, 19
No, 77.4%, 65

Answered: 84
Skipped: 0

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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