Religion Splits Tennessee Republicans: Poll

MURFREESBORO – Church-going Tennessee Republicans favor Rick Santorum over Mitt Romney by nearly six to one, a sharp contrast with the more balanced percentages among state Republicans who attend religious services less often, the latest MTSU Poll shows.

“It’s unclear whether these church-going Republicans like Santorum’s religiously conservative positions on social issues, dislike Romney’s Mormon faith, or have some other reason for preferring Santorum,” Dr. Ken Blake, MTSU associate professor of journalism and director of the MTSU Poll, said. “But the pattern suggests that most of Santorum’s Republican base in Tennessee can be found in pews on Sunday morning.”

Among the 196 Republicans interviewed for the poll – 34 percent of the poll’s overall sample – 64 percent said they attend worship services “almost every week” or less often, while 36 percent said they attend every week. Among those who attend almost every week or less often, 32 percent favor Santorum compared to a statistically equal 22 percent who favor Romney. The rest favor someone else or give no answer. By contrast, among those who attend every week, 61 percent favor Santorum, 11 percent favor Romney, and the rest favor someone else or give no answer.

Given that the analysis is based on a subset of the poll’s full sample of 646 Tennessee adults, the percentages among all Republicans might not be as dramatic as those in the randomly selected Republicans who were polled, Blake noted. “But the differences are too large to have shown up in the poll because of random factors. Tennessee Republicans who spend the most time in church also are significantly more likely to back Santorum.”

The poll did not probe respondents’ feelings toward Romney’s Mormon faith or toward the Roman Catholic Santorum’s stances on contraception, gay marriage and abortion.

For over a decade, the Survey Group at MTSU has been providing independent, non-partisan and unbiased public opinion data regarding major social, political, and ethical issues affecting Tennessee. The poll began in 1998 as a measure of public opinion in the 39 counties comprising Middle Tennessee and began measuring public opinion statewide in 2001. Learn more and view the full report at