Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s by-now-well-established effort to lure conservative Christian voters to his not-yet-official presidential campaign suffers from two key problems. First, there is at least one other possible 2016 candidate with much stronger evangelical credentials. And, second, Jindal is not a well-known candidate.
As today’s front-page Post article by Tom Hamburger makes clear, Jindal’s efforts to make his background known to voters has been kicked into a higher gear recently. He took a prominent position in support of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson last December, then became actively engaged in the religious freedom push that flashed through several states earlier this year. Hamburger’s report on Jindal’s outreach to pastors in early primary states makes clear that the governor is making both a public and private effort to cultivate support in this community.
This is a smart strategy. Evangelical voters make up a significant chunk of the Republican primary electorate. In 2012, a report from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition estimated that half of the Republican voters through March of the primary season identified as evangelical Christians. Exit polls from national networks suggested that this probably wasn’t too far from the truth. In some states, particularly in the South, four out of five voters in the 2012 primaries identified themselves that way.
Percent of primary Republicans identifying as evangelical
Jindal’s problem — the problem that he’s explicitly trying to fix — is that people barely recognize him as a candidate, much less as a Christian conservative one. Since Jindal has remained on the fringes of the national conversation, there isn’t a lot of polling showing how well known he is at this point. In a national Fairleigh Dickinson University poll conducted in 2012 (admittedly, a long time ago — but after Jindal’s heavily derided State of the Union response), 63 percent of respondents hadn’t heard of the governor. (He’d won reelection by a wide margin the year before.)
But a Post / ABC poll conducted last month shows the real problem for Jindal: Evangelicals already have a 2016 favorite, named Mike Huckabee. The graph below shows the overall ranking of each 2016 candidate covered in the poll (the blue bar), compared to how that support changes when you take out everyone except evangelicals. Huckabee — who may not run, of course — pulled in 13 percent of the support from the full population of people who said they lean Republican. But among evangelicals, he got 22 percent, a nine-point increase. Only one percent of all Republican respondents chose Jindal at the outset, and that only increased one percentage point when narrowed down to just evangelicals.
In its write-up of that April poll, ABC News referred to Jindal as “comparatively less-known” than the better-supported candidates. (This is even after his public advocacy on religious issues, it’s worth noting.) There are still months and months (and months) before voters are asked to make that comparison for real, and Jindal’s effort with religious leaders is clearly aimed at improving his standing. But, he needs a lot of improvement.
Jindal does appear to have a back-up strategy, though. Last month he unveiled a plan to reform healthcare in the country, hoping to leverage his experience in the field to his political advantage. If Jindal wants to be the policy wonk in 2016, though, his problem isn’t Huckabee. It’s Paul Ryan.