What the South's Scary Republican Electorate Says About the GOP

The Republican primary voters over the last few decades have become increasing more radically conservative.

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There has been a lot written about the make-up of the Republican primary electorate in 2012. By now, it has become clear how very conservative they are, how many of them are evangelicals, how social issues motivate many of them, and how truly angry they are at President Obama.

As I have written before, this is not your mother's Republican Party.

But the latest polls by the reputable and respected Public Policy Polling group in Tuesday's primary states of Alabama and Mississippi tell a pretty disturbing story. They surveyed 656 likely Republican voters in Mississippi and 600 in Alabama this past week.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.]

In Alabama, 45 percent described themselves as "very conservative" and 36 percent as "somewhat conservative"; in Mississippi, those numbers were 44 percent and 34 percent respectively. Not a huge shock there.

In Alabama, 68 percent describe themselves as "Evangelical Christian." In Mississippi, that percentage was 70 percent. Again, not that surprising in the deep South.

But here comes the more disturbing news: In Alabama, 60 percent do not believe in evolution. In Mississippi, the figure is 66 percent. 

When it comes to interracial marriage, 29 percent of Republican primary voters in Mississippi believe it should be illegal. In Alabama, 21 percent think it should be illegal.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Is Mitt Romney Vulnerable in the South?]

Now, both of those last two answers would really mean turning back the clock!

And on Barack Obama's religion, in response to the straightforward question, "Do you think Barack Obama is a Christian or a Muslim or are you not sure?"  the answers are scary. In Alabama, 14 percent say Christian, 45 percent say Muslim, 41 percent are not sure. In Mississippi, 12 percent say Christian, 52 percent say Muslim, and 36 percent are not sure.

Several years ago we saw disturbing numbers on the Muslim question, but there has been enough publicity, enough coverage, enough debunking of the false accusations, that one would think that people would have moved on. Not so.

Why do the most engaged voters in Republican primaries seem to hold views that are outright false? Is the hatred of Obama so visceral that they will believe anything that comes across the Internet? Are their views reinforced by friends and neighbors? Do they simply not believe any facts when they are presented?

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

The truly scary thing is that though these numbers are from two states, this is looking less like an aberration. The Republican primary voters over the last few decades have become increasing more radically conservative, the delegates to the conventions more far right, the Republican Party more rigid. It was impossible for Sen. John McCain to nominate a Tom Ridge or a Joe Lieberman as vice president—too pro-choice. The platform at each convention has become more conservative, especially on social issues. The no-tax pledge has become a needless straight-jacket, yet signed by virtually all Republicans in Congress.

But, these two polls show a remarkable closed-mindedness when it comes to issues of race and religion that many thought were settled with open-mindedness. Apparently not.

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