A new survey of the five states that will hold caucuses or primaries prior to February's "Tsunami Tuesday" indicates the so-called "religious right" is a shrinking force among Republicans who say they will vote in their states' presidential primaries.
The poll offered significant indications that the new makeup of Republican voters is no longer that of a party dominated by social- or religious-based voters.
Last year, incumbent Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who was viewed by most as a moderate conservative, drubbed former Alabama Justice Roy Moore, who championed the cause of keeping the 10 Commandments at an Alabama courthouse.
In Georgia, former Christian Coalition national director Ralph Reed was solidly defeated in a bid for his state's nomination for lieutenant governor. In fact, Georgia's true Christian Coalition actually disbanded and regrouped under a different name.
Throughout the so-called Bible Belt, GOP voters were showing a strong inkling that while they may be intensely religious, they aren't as interested in mixing politics and personal religious beliefs as some pundits might think.
Here is the rundown of the new polls. Our InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion survey of each of the states had at least 700-plus respondents. In most states, the number was well over 1,000, meaning the margin of error for each of the polls was a very tight plus-or-minus 3 percentage points. Each poll interviewed likely Republican voters and was weighted for age, race and gender.
Our survey asked likely Republican presidential primary voters in these critical early states if, in their political philosophy, they are primarily:
A conservative based on religious-based or related considerations
A conservative in general
A moderate conservative
In every state, the vast majority of voters described themselves as being somewhere between "general conservative" to "moderate." In fact, in both New Hampshire and Michigan, nearly half of those who responded said they were either "moderate conservative" or "conservative."
Here are the percentages, by state, of those Republicans who said their own political philosophy was "primarily religious-based conservative": Florida, 28 percent; South Carolina, 38 percent; Michigan, 27 percent; New Hampshire, 17 percent; Iowa, 35 percent.
There is a clear pattern here. Almost all of these percentages for each state were either below or equal to President Bush's national approval rating. That's not to suggest there is a direct correlation. Rather, it places into perspective just how much less significant this particular sector of the GOP is now than it was in past election cycles.
After all, if President Bush's approval rating -- mid-30s percent range -- is considered a disaster, then numbers this low for a group of voters who once dominated the GOP's agenda must be viewed as equally disappointing.
Ironically, these numbers come in the exact same week that The Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story describing the loss of corporate and business support for Republicans.
So if business is bailing and the so-called religious right dwindling in influence, who really is the potential driving force for a GOP candidate for president? The answer is, those who are a little more moderate on social issues, but adamant when it comes to matters that impact their pocketbooks and personal circumstances.
What most Republican candidates don't realize is that the housing market, real tax reform, job security and other matters that impact peoples' day-to-day lives are far more significant to these voters than many of the issues GOP candidates, in pandering to an increasingly dwindling party base, have focused on.
Who is helped by this shift in the makeup of the GOP electorate? The answer is, every candidate. Republicans vying for their party's nomination are now free to spend their time addressing our nation's monetary and trade issues; how to help those caught in the "credit crunch"; ways to deal with illegal immigration in a manner that has real teeth; and ways to create stability in and ultimate departure from Iraq.
Does this mean the GOP has suddenly shifted from a party of saints to one of sinners? No. What it does mean is that most Republicans probably feel like those stuck on the Titanic: their faith and prayers in their minds, but right now they are looking for a lifeboat.