Yesterday RNS posted a piece by evangelical author Jonathan Merritt arguing that the mainstream media narrative about Mitt Romney's problem with evangelicals is a myth. There are two flaws with his analysis. First, no such mainstream media narrative exists at the present time. And second, if it did, we might actually have an answer to the question.
The narrative did apply to the primary campaign. As in 2008, when he lost the nomination because evangelicals wouldn't vote for him, Romney had real trouble picking up evangelical votes this time around. Fortunately for him, there was no Mike Huckabee to run against, and by the time evangelicals coalesced around (Catholic) Rick Santorum, he pretty much had the nomination wrapped up.
Whereupon the mainstream media stopped paying attention to evangelicals, assuming that they would--as Merritt claims--square their shoulders and as good Republicans go with the Mormon standardbearer of their party. As a result, virtually every survey research outfit polling on the campaign has ceased asking respondants whether they are evangelicals.
So yes, we've got some general data from Pew and the Public Religion Research Institute indicating that evangelicals would vote for Romney, but nothing like the kind of state-by-state portrait that we have for other demographic variables. The one state poll I've found that provides an evangelical cross-tab is a mid-August Missouri survey SurveyUSA, and it shows real evangelical weakness for Romney in the Show-Me State.
Actually, contra Merrill, the 69 percent level of evangelical support for Romney nationwide recorded by PRRI is significantly lower than the 74 percent level achieved by John McCain in 2008--and if borne out in November, would represent as much as a two point swing towards Obama in the total popular vote.
But as serious pols know, the real question when it comes to the evangelical voting bloc what counts is not the percentage that vote for the GOP presidential candidate so much as force in which they turn out to vote. Karl Rove has always claimed that the reason George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 is that millions of evangelicals stayed home after learning about Bush's past problems with alcohol. While it's difficult to measure motives, we will have a good idea of the size of the evangelical turnout when the actual exit polls are tabulated.
Until then, it's anyone's guess whether Romney has an evangelical problem. Unless, of course, the surveyers start asking them to identify themselves and their concerns.