Cruz faces tough sledding in least-religious NH, Gallup shows

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One reason Ted Cruz, the Republican Iowa caucus winner last week, isn’t faring as well in New Hampshire polling may be because the Texas senator’s appeal to evangelical Christian voters falls largely on deaf ears.

The Granite State is the least devout place in the U.S., according to Gallup surveys of those who say they are “very religious.” In New Hampshire, that amounted to just 1 in 5 people, Gallup said on Friday, the lowest ratio of any U.S. state. Three other New England states follow close behind, including Massachusetts.

The Iowa win by the Cruz campaign “was driven by his strong appeal to highly religious or evangelical Republicans,” Gallup said, citing entrance polling at the caucus sites. It noted that the Granite State has far fewer evangelicals for Cruz to draw to the voting booth on primary day.

Cruz has only briefly held second place in likely Republican voter surveys in New Hampshire, just before the Iowa contest, according to a rolling average of major polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who has also appealed to evangelicals, has held second for longer periods in the Granite State but has steadily dropped since mid-November and most recently ranked last among major candidates.

Republicans like Cruz and Carson may fare better in places like South Carolina, site of the next GOP primary on Feb. 20.  The state is tied for seventh among the most religious areas in the nation by Gallup.

The polling organization defined the “very religious” as people who say their faith is “important” to them and who attend religious services once a week, or almost that much. It counts as nonreligious those who say faith isn’t important and who never or very seldom attend a service. Just 32 percent of Iowans were listed as nonreligious by Gallup, compared with 55 percent in New Hampshire.

Gallup’s results come from more than 174,000 telephone interviews across all 50 states, with at least 480 being done in each over the course of 2015. The surveys showed Mississippi to be the most religious, with 63 percent saying their faith is “important” and they go to services weekly.

Overall, the polling organization said there was little change in the nationwide results, with 40 percent classified as very religious last year compared with 41 percent in 2008, when the tracking surveys began. The percentage categorized as nonreligious rose to 31 percent from 30 percent over the same period. The most religious states are all in the South except Utah.

In the Northeast, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts trail only New Hampshire as the least religious states, at 22 percent, 26 percent, 27 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Rhode Island tied for eighth in that category with New York, as both were listed with 32 percent of people categorized as very religious. Connecticut is out of the top 10, coming in at 13th with just 33 percent qualifying as very religious.