Here’s the basic data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life :

Among the 57% of Iowa caucus-goers who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, Santorum finished in first place with 32% support. Ron Paul garnered 18% of the evangelical vote, while Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry each received 14% of the evangelical vote.

I’m not someone who pays close attention to every inning of the long political game. But the data seems clear. A Catholic candidate got a great deal of the Evangelical vote.

What this suggests to me is that the “religion factor” has shifted. Today Catholic, Protestant, and Jew make little difference. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Mormon makes little difference. (Muslim does make a difference, a big difference, but that’s for another time.) What seems to move voters is a combination of authentic piety, or at least the appearance of genuinely believing, and clarity about crucial moral and social issues.

I’m convinced that an Orthodox Jew could win as many votes from Evangelicals in Iowa as Santorum did—assuming of course that he had similar unequivocal views about the key issues of concern to Evangelicals.

The same is probably true for a Mormon. I find it hard to believe that Romney got fewer votes from Evangelicals because he was a Mormon rather than a Catholic. As the former governor of Massachusetts Romney has a track record of compromise, accommodation, and silence (if not outright agreement) with liberals on all sorts of issues, some economic and some social. That—and not Mormonism—was his liability among Evangelicals in Iowa.

In any event, it ain’t 1960 anymore. Pious Baptists in places like Houston or Des Moines don’t seem worried about the nefarious influence of priestcraft. These days it’s just religious conviction plain and simple that arouses loyalty among some voters—and anxious antipathy from others.

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