South Carolina’s Generational Split Among Born-Again Christians

Last week, I noted that the Edison exit polls indicate evidence of a generational split among Michigan’s African-American primary voters in their support for the Democratic candidates; younger African-American voters went decidedly for ‘uncommitted’ as a probable proxy for Barack Obama, while older African-American voters were somewhat more inclined to support Hillary Clinton. It will be interesting to see if this pattern also holds in the upcoming South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday.
The exit poll data from this past Saturday indicates that a similar pattern of generational differences appears to have characterized the voting patterns of the self-identified born-again Christians in the South Carolina Republican primary. Older born-again Christian voters (i.e., those over 60 years of age) accounted for John McCain’s margin of victory over Mike Huckabee in the South Carolina Republican primary election.
As everyone expected, born-again Christians played a leading role in South Carolina’s Republican primary; 60% of the voters interviewed in the exit polls identified themselves as born-again Christians. This is a far larger proportion of South Carolina’s Republican primary voters than in the states with the earlier Republican primaries (e.g., 23% in New Hampshire and 39% in Michigan), though it equals that of Iowa caucus goers (60%). Of the South Carolina Republican primary voters, Huckabee won the largest share (43%) of the born-again Christians, though McCain also managed to attract more than a quarter (27%) of these voters.
Interestingly, however, an analysis of the age distribution of the born-again Christian voters in Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary indicates that nearly half of those voters age 18-29 years (49%) and those whose age is 30-59 years (44%) voted for Gov. Huckabee, while only about 1 in 5 (19% and 21%, respectively) in these age groups supported Sen. McCain. Among those age 60 years and older, however, each of the candidates received an identical level of support (39%). This is important, given that nearly a third (32%) of the born-again Christian voters in the South Carolina Republican primary were age 60 or over.
So what are we to make of this? Well, 60% were born-again, 32% of these are older, and McCain did much better among this age group (39%) than he did among the younger age groups (about 20%). Had he done only as well among the older born-again Christians as he did among the younger, the older born-again Christians would have provided him (.6 * .32 * .20 =) 3.8% of the South Carolina Republican primary vote. Instead, the older born-again Christians gave McCain a margin similar to what they gave Huckabee, resulting in far larger portion of the South Carolina Republican primary vote: (.6 * .32 *.39 =) 7.5%. The difference between these (7.5% – 3.8% = 3.7%) is just slightly more than John McCain’s margin of victory over Mike Huckabee in the South Carolina Republican primary. So it appears that John McCain can thank older born-again Christians for his margin of victory in the South Carolina Republican primary election.