Santorum wins Kansas but may pay a price for his focus on religious issues

By Ken Feltman

Even a quick review of comments by Kansas focus group participants from last week shows anger and resentment. These are upset people and they are upset with Rick Santorum for his emphasis on his religious beliefs. The frustration spills over to Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, too.

Here’s what we observed: When one person touched on Santorum’s comments or said something about religion, the others in the focus group soon joined in. Eventually, concerns that Santorum’s views are out of the mainstream, even among Catholics, degenerated into fearful and even prejudiced comments – attitudes that may have been hidden by these focus group participants for years.

Next came anger that Santorum had brought religion into the campaign and made it a subject of public discussion. Roman Catholics, perhaps sensing a more vulnerable position in majority Protestant Kansas, were especially vocal in their denunciations of Santorum. Evangelical Protestants either agreed with Santorum or said that he might have gone too far – but not far enough to lose their support.

Clearly, now that religion is in the spotlight, it will continue to be discussed. Probably, it will recede into the background in news coverage and conversations with strangers. It will be brought out in focus groups and discussions among friends.

The comments labeled “Kansas” at the link below show the anxiety, frustration and anger that Santorum triggered. The Radnor Conflict Index will continue to watch the issue but, for now, Evangelicals and other social-issue conservatives continue to support Santorum.

Moderates and especially Catholic women seem to have abandoned him. Will they return? Probably not in sufficient numbers to make the discussion of religion a winning issue for Santorum. Kansas is among the states with the most Evangelical voters and Santorum ran behind Mike Huckabee’s 2008 caucus totals.

Link to focus group comments: I Said

Link to the Conflict Index site: Radnor Conflict Index

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About Radnor Reports

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Feltman founded the U.S. and European Conflict Indexes in 1988. The indexes have predicted the winner of every U.S. presidential election beginning in 1988, plus the outcome of several European elections. In May of 2010, the Conflict Index was used by university students in Egypt. The Index predicted the fall of the Mubarak government within the next year.
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