Evangelicals Voting in Record Numbers During GOP Primaries

According to exit polling, more than half of all voters in the 2012 GOP primaries self-identify as evangelical Christians, marking the highest turnout for evangelical voters in any presidential nomination cycle in history.

The exit polling, first assembled by the Faith and Freedom Coalition and later confirmed by CBS News, shows that 50.53 percent of voters in 16 of the 27 Republican primaries so far this year identify themselves as evangelical Christians, up from 44 percent in 2008.

These numbers also do not include regularly practicing Catholics, who comprise an additional 10 to 14 percent of the vote in most GOP primaries.

It also seems that Rick Santorum is the favored candidate among the current Republican field.

According to the data, Santorum received 32.95 percent of the evangelical vote, while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich lagged behind at 29.74 percent and 29.65 percent, respectively.

Ron Paul trailed the rest of the field by a fairly wide margin, receiving just 7.76 percent of the evangelical vote.

Still, the upcoming primary schedule may not favor Santorum, even with the increasing participation of his base.

The GOP still has to run primaries in more secular states like California and New Jersey, where Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed is skeptical that Santorum's popularity with evangelicals will be enough to win him the nomination.

Still, in an election that was predicted to be all about the economy, the increased influence of the evangelical vote is a somewhat unexpected development.

"The conventional wisdom going into this election was that the issues that motivate these voters weren't going to be much of a factor in the election," Reed said. "And I think that conventional wisdom, as is often the case, is not going to be right."

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