Arizona Senator John McCain's victory over Texas Governor George Bush in the Michigan primary comes down to basic religious demographics. There are fewer conservative Christian voters in Michigan than South Carolina--and conservative Christians are the most reliable group of Bush supporters.

Bush's support from the religious right was strong, closely paralleling South Carolina: self-identified members of the religious right make up 26 percent of Michigan voters, and Bush got two-thirds of their vote. In South Carolina, Bush also got two-thirds of their vote, but the size of the bloc was bigger--one-third of the electorate.

That means if Michigan had the same percentage of religious conservatives in its electorate, Bush would have won. It also means Bush was unable to add other constituencies to his voter base in Michigan.

Was there any backlash against the religious right, especially among Catholic voters?

Although exit polls didn't deal with this question directly, two things seem clear. First, McCain's victory was not primarily a reaction to the religious right, because most of his voters were moderate independents and liberal Democrats drawn to the polls by McCain's character and reform agenda. He won four-fifths of the Democrats and two-thirds of independents who showed up to vote in Michigan's open primary--and only one-quarter of the Republicans.

In contrast, Bush received two-thirds of Republican votes, the same number he won in South Carolina.

But Bush may have lost a handful of conservatives who are Catholic. Embedded in the exit poll data are some intriguing statistics: pro-life voters made up half of the Michigan primary electorate, up from 47 percent in 1996. But Bush won just 54 percent of them, less than the 61 percent he received in South Carolina. If Bush had gotten the same margin in Michigan, he would have cut McCain's lead in half and made the election very close.

If Bush had done as well with pro-life voters as he did with the religious right, the election would have been a dead heat. It appears that part of the reason Bush fared less well with pro-life voters in Michigan is that more of them were Catholic.

It could well be that Bush lost these perhaps crucial votes to Alan Keyes, who is both pro-life and Catholic, and pulled in 10 percent of the pro-life constituency. McCain did no better with Michigan pro-lifers than he did in other states.

The Michigan results mean that the campaign will go on, with both McCain and Bush having solved one-half of the election puzzle: McCain has employed character issues to attract a broad coalition of voters, but has serious trouble with core Republican constituencies; Bush has gained a firm grip on the core of the GOP, but has much less appeal beyond it.

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