Evangelicals in the "first in the South" primary voted 33-27-22 percent, Trump-Ted Cruz-Marco Rubio. That’s surprising because Cruz beat Trump by a dozen points (and Rubio by 13) among evangelicals in Iowa, 34-22-21 percent. (The comparatively few evangelicals in New Hampshire voted 27-23 percent, Trump-Cruz, but we might think of New Hampshire evangelicals as a somewhat different breed.)
Evangelicals were thick on the ground in South Carolina, accounting for 72 percent of voters, up from 65 percent in 2012. A group that big is going to have a range of political interests. Consider that fewer than half of evangelicals -- 44 percent -- in South Carolina identified themselves as “very” conservative. They were Cruz voters; very conservative evangelicals voted 40-28-17 percent, Cruz-Trump-Rubio.
But not-very-conservative evangelicals looked quite different; they voted 37-25-16 percent, Trump-Rubio-Cruz. That is, Cruz first among very conservative evangelicals. Cruz third, Trump first, among their not-as-conservative brethren. And the latter group was the larger one.
We see a similar result looking at evangelicals who said they care a great deal that a candidate shares their religious beliefs – 54 percent of all evangelicals, they voted 35-27-19 percent, Cruz-Trump-Rubio. Among evangelicals who were less focused on a candidate who shares their religious beliefs, the vote was 41-24-17 percent, Trump-Rubio-Cruz. Same deal: Cruz first among evangelicals focused on shared religious beliefs; Cruz last, and Trump first, among all other evangelicals.
Evangelicals in Iowa were slightly more conservative than in South Carolina – 49 percent identified themselves as very conservative vs. 44 percent, as noted, in South Carolina – and their voting pattern was very similar: Very conservative evangelicals in Iowa voted 46-20-15 percent, Cruz-Trump-Rubio. The distinction from South Carolina is that not-very-conservative evangelicals in Iowa were more dispersed in their vote preferences, 28-23-22 percent, Rubio-Trump-Cruz.
The conclusion here is that when it comes to intra-party contests, evangelicals (like many groups) are not as politically cohesive as we might assume. That's a challenge for Cruz in the contests ahead – and it's good news for the man of the season so far, Donald Trump.