Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida now has the support of more than 70 percent of evangelical leaders and influencers, and remains their top presidential pick for the seventh month in a row, according to WORLD magazine's monthly surveys.
While billionaire businessman Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner in national polls, Rubio came out on top in the survey for the seventh month in a row this month, says the latest WORLD survey, adding that his combined first- and second-choice support increased from 66 percent in December to 73 percent in January, including 40 out of 82 first-choice votes.
WORLD conducts a monthly survey of 103 evangelical leaders and influencers, 82 of whom participated in January.
Asked, "If the presidential election were today, which declared candidate do you prefer?," 48.8 percent of the respondents named Rubio, while 23.8 percent said he was their "second choice."
"Rubio appeals strongly to evangelicals because of his past and present record on issues like abortion and gay marriage, his commitment to making court appointments that will uphold conservative principles in the future, and his sheer electability," survey participant Karen Swallow Prior, an author and Liberty University professor, was quoted as saying.
Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas also gained in combined support, edging up from 52 percent last month to 56 percent in January, although his first-choice support dropped slightly, according to the survey, whose results are "not scientific or representative of all evangelicals but offer a glimpse into how a group of influential evangelicals are leaning in the 2016 presidential race."
A little more than 28 percent of the evangelical leaders and influencers said Cruz is their first choice, and 27.5 percent said he is their second choice.
Number three was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 6.1 percent saying he is their first choice and as many as 15 percent saying he's their second choice.
Less than 5 percent said they prefer Trump, and just 6.3 percent said he is their second choice.
Asked, "Who will you absolutely not vote for in the primaries?" 87.8 percent said Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, and 86.6 percent named Hillary Clinton.
Trump remains the most disliked Republican candidate in the survey with 59 percent saying they "absolutely" would not vote for him in the primaries, but he has significantly improved from August, when 81 percent said they would not consider him, the survey noted.
"Trump is getting better at his shtick—exploiting anxiety, dropping conservative buzzwords, and playing up his D.C. 'outsider' status," survey participant Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network, was quoted as saying.