03/12/2012 05:18 pm ET Updated May 12, 2012

On Social Issues, Mississippi and Alabama Primary Voters Not as Extreme as You Might Think

Never mind Romney's hackneyed caricature of the South being only about grits and y'all. Recent PPP polling might tempt some to unearth other hackneyed caricatures about Southerners and social issues. But in fact, there are fewer differences between Southern Republicans and voters overall than you might think.

Republican primary voters in Mississippi and Alabama are far more likely to think the President is Muslim (52 percent, 45 percent, respectively) than Christian (12 percent, 14 percent, respectively). A not-insignificant number in each state say interracial marriage should be illegal (29 percent, 21 percent). And majorities don't believe in evolution (66 percent, 60 percent). To be sure, these voters are socially conservative.

But don't be too startled by these numbers. Most Americans believe in creationism of some sort. Gallup tracking on this question shows only 16 percent believe "humans evolved, but God had no part of the process" and twice as many believe creationism is "definitely true" as believe the same about evolution (39 percent, 18 percent). Similarly, in 2005 Pew showed a third believe evolution is the "explanation for the origin of human life."

On interracial marriage, PPP's April 2011 poll, also with Mississippi Republicans, showed far more (46 percent) wanting to see these marriages illegal. And the new polling suggests Mississippi and Alabama Republicans are not necessarily that far removed from voters overall. Gallup tracking on this question shows huge movement since 1958, when only 4 percent "approved" of interracial marriages. But even at its new high of 86 percent in 2011, it falls short of unanimous. And this recent Pew poll shows a plurality say interracial marriage has had "no effect" as opposed to a "change for the better." (This wouldn't be the only example of Americans having seemingly antiquated views toward marriage; this suggests a majority feel women should be legally required to change their last name to their husband's.)

National polling on Obama's perceived religion suggests there is plenty of confusion, not just in the South. This Pew poll from 2010 showed a shrinking number of Americans believe Obama is a Christian, with a plurality (43 percent) unsure. While Republicans in the Deep South are more likely to say Obama is a Muslim than punt with a "don't know," either way these polls show the "network of misinformation" has muddied the waters.

Regardless of how far (or not) these southern primary voters are from the mainstream on social issues, one thing is clear. The Presidential candidate winning the most delegates will be far outside the mainstream on economic issues, whether it's tax fairness, income inequality, environmental regulations, the value of a college education, or coverage of birth control. Instead of extolling the virtues of grits, or pandering on social issues, the candidates would be better-served addressing voters' economic concerns.