The “Falwell Factor” among Evangelical voters
Evangelicals are a diverse group.
How else can one explain the contradicting primary results between Iowa and South Carolina among the same faction of people? In the 2016 primaries, the evangelical electorate is a major target audience for Republican presidential contenders. Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz owes his success in the Iowa primary almost completely to evangelicals. The Wall Street Journal published that his win was “powered” by evangelicals.
Commentators for various media outlets are not the only ones to have predicted Cruz’s campaign success or failure as largely dependent on evangelical’s response, but Cruz himself also realizes his Golden Ticket to Emerald City can only be acquired through the South. He even calls this region his “firewall,” according to an article by Eliana Johnson on National Review. South Carolina, therefore, became not only a battleground state for the Texas senator, but it also served as a forecast for how the large majority of evangelicals would vote in the Southern bloc primaries. Johnson wrote that the “Palmetto State will provide a more reliable predictor of whether Cruz’s candidacy has the potential to be widely successful, and to make history in the process.”
To the undoubted disappointment of Cruz, his first test among the “firewall” in the South Carolina primary Feb. 20 came up short, with only 22.3 percent of the vote against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who finished with 32.5 percent of the vote, according to Associated Press. Interestingly enough, the reason for this evangelical shift in support is what some are calling the “Falwell Factor.”
According to an article on Newsmax, Jerry Falwell Jr. played a large role in the shift among evangelical voters from supporting Cruz to supporting Trump. As president of the largest evangelical university in the world, Falwell’s personal decision to endorse Trump has weighed “significantly” among this voter bloc. The exit polls prove as much. In Iowa, out of the 62 percent of identified evangelical voters, Cruz captured 33 percent while Trump took 21 percent. Just 19 days later in South Carolina, out of the 67 percent of this same association of voters, Trump took 34 percent while Cruz trailed behind with 26 percent.
While there are some who call these results the beginning of the end for Cruz, the anti-establishment enthusiast believes the real base for his candidacy is ultimately grassroots conservatives. When Cruz first entered the realm of national politics in 2012 in the Senate, his name was virtually unknown. His team responded by creating what they hoped would be the “largest grass-roots army that Texas had ever seen,” according to the Dallas Morning News. Today, that same army has multiplied to an impressive 200,000 supporters nationwide, according to a CBS article, and instead of helping Cruz make it to Capitol Hill, they are looking to get him into the highest office in the land.
With 15 primaries and caucuses happening March 1, and five of them landing in the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia), will the results follow in the footsteps of Iowa, justifying Cruz’s “firewall” theory after all? Or is the “Falwell Factor” a serious variable that has turned the tide of evangelical voting? Only one thing is for certain: Evangelicals are a diverse group.