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60 percent evangelicals? Yes, but ...

Before the 60 percent evangelical figure ossifies, we go Behind the Numbers for an important caveat about the data. (Please remember Tuesday night.)

On last night's network entrance poll six in 10 GOP caucus-goers described themselves as "born-again or evangelical Christian." That's a much higher proportion than many expected; it's also much higher than it would have been had the poll used what's become a standard definition of this voting bloc.

(See here for another proviso about entrance and exit polls.)

In Washington Post-ABC News surveys we frequently write about "white evangelical Protestants," as do many other survey organizations. In 2000 and 2004, the National Election Pool, sponsor of the entrance and exit polls, highlighted results among this group as well, so almost all the reporting on "evangelicals" from the last two presidential elections is based on this definition.

This year's one-page entrance poll questionnaire included evangelical and race questions, but not religion. This omission was crucial, as some Catholics and other non-Protestant Christians consider themselves to be born-again. (In a December Post-ABC Iowa poll two in 10 likely GOP caucus-goers who called themselves evangelical were non-Protestants.)

Pre-election polls from Post-ABC and the Pew Research Center pegged the proportion of Iowa GOP caucus-goers who are white evangelical Protestants at just under four in 10. By this classification, 15 percent of likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire were evangelical in a December Post-ABC poll; Pew put the number at 18 percent. A Pew poll in South Carolina had white evangelical Protestants making up a majority, 53 percent, of the GOP electorate.

The 60 percent figure out of Iowa, then, is a solid estimate, but it may not be comparable to what we've reported in the past, or may see out of New Hampshire on Tuesday night, and beyond.

By Jon Cohen  |  January 4, 2008; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  Polls  
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Next: Five Key Findings from the Iowa Entrance Poll

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