Polling in Alabama and Mississippi has a lot of people wondering whether tomorrow could finally be the day for Mitt Romney to win in the South. Alabama polls have shown a three-way dead heat between Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and a Rasmussen poll last week found Romney with a surprising eight point lead in Mississippi. But I wouldn't count on him winning in either state.
One thing that's been pretty constant throughout the nomination contests thus far is that when there's a critical mass of evangelical voters, Romney loses. To add some numbers to back up this perception, I went back and analyzed data from the 14 exit and entrance polls that have been conducted over the course of the current presidential race. In the nine of those states that Romney won, evangelical voters comprised an average of 33 percent of the electorate. In the five that he lost, the evangelical vote averaged 66 percent of the electorate.
In the 2008 primaries, evangelicals made up 77 percent of the vote in Alabama and 69 percent of the vote in Mississippi. And by the time the Mississippi primary had rolled around last time, Mike Huckabee had already dropped out of the race and John McCain had effectively clinched the nomination, so the evangelical turnout will likely be even higher this time around. However close the polls may look in Alabama and Mississippi, evangelical voters are a very active and dependable voting block that is likely to come out in big numbers tomorrow given the closeness of the race, so it's unlikely that Romney will be able to pull off a victory if the past is prologue.
That said, if Romney does win one of the states, it would be a big deal and would be the first solid indication that even people who normally wouldn't be inclined to support him are beginning to get behind him as the inevitable nominee.