CNN Iowa Insiders Survey: Will Iowa's evangelicals pick the GOP nominee?

Michele Bachmann talks about her faith while campaigning in Corning, Iowa, in the last days days before the Iowa caucuses.

Story highlights

  • Iowa evangelicals wield power in the GOP presidential selection process
  • Bachmann, Perry and Santorum are favorites among social conservatives
  • But their ability to consolidate power is questioned

We all know about the power of born-again and evangelical voters in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses. Four years ago, three out of every five Iowans who attended a GOP precinct caucus described themselves that way, and they handed Baptist minister and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee an upset victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would like to repeat that trick again on Tuesday. Whether 60% of the 2012 Iowa GOP caucus vote will be made up of self-described born-again or evangelical voters again, and whether any one of those candidates will be able to scoop up almost half of them as as Huckabee did, remains to be seen.

But even if Bachmann, Perry or Santorum can repeat Huckabee's feat, then what? New Hampshire's Yankee Republicans have been notoriously skeptical of what they perceive as holy rollers roaring out of Iowa. Huckabee could only manage a distant third-place finish with 11% of the vote in the 2008 Granite State primary. And when the 1988 Iowa caucuses elevated televangelist Pat Robertson with a second-place finish that year, he could only manage a fifth-place showing and 9% of the vote in the New Hampshire GOP primary. Both Huckabee and Robertson quickly headed to South Carolina to try to resuscitate their campaigns in its primary, but there were no revivals: Huckabee finished second there, and Robertson third.

CNN surveyed 64 Iowa GOP insiders, including state legislators, local elected and party officials, veterans of previous caucus campaigns, and other party operatives, and asked them if a relatively strong showing by any of this year's more conservative trio could lead to a legitimate run for the GOP nomination by rallying the faith vote. And in the state that knows that vote well, there were doubters.

If Bachmann, Perry or Santorum is able to finish in the top three in the caucuses, do you think that candidate will be able to consolidate the born-again/evangelical vote and become a significant factor in the GOP nominating contest?
• Yes: 46%
• No: 54%

The Iowa GOP insiders' skepticism was informed in part at least by what happened four years ago. "Huckabee couldn't do it and he was a much better candidate," observed one Iowa GOP insider. Maybe Santorum or Bachmann or Perry could consolidate the religious vote for a while, allowed another GOP insider: "Be a significant factor in the GOP nominating contest? No, the Huckabee campaign confirmed this in 2008."

RELATED: Two out of three think Romney will win
RELATED: Some Iowa Republicans want more options

And even several of those yeses were qualified. "Bachmann and Perry are finished, they just don't know it yet," said one Iowa GOP insider dismissively. "Santorum could ride the wave for a while, but I doubt to the nomination." Another echoed, "Santorum could become the anti-Mitt, but (the) lack of a national organization and fundraising will be an impediment. He'd need to suddenly catch fire in South Carolina and he'll have a tough time with resources in Florida."

      Election 2012

    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
    • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
    • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
    • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.