Change Trumps Experience in Iowa
By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
The Iowa caucuses are typically low-turnout affairs that are notoriously hard to predict, but this year, pre-election polls accurately captured the underlying dynamics of both parties' contests. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama appealed to a change-oriented Democratic electorate, while former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee won the GOP race in large part by picking up significant support among evangelicals.
In the NEP entrance poll conducted at a random sample of precincts, 52 percent of Democratic caucusgoers called a candidate's ability to bring about needed change the top quality. Obama trounced the competition on this score, with more than half of "change-voters" supporting him as they entered a caucus. Far fewer, 20 percent, said a candidate's experience was what mattered most to them.
On the GOP side, 60 percent of caucusgoers were evangelical Christians, and they broke heavily for Huckabee, preferring him by more than 2 to 1 over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who finished second. As in a pre-election Washington Post-ABC News poll two weeks before the caucuses, Huckabee in particular benefited from the support of evangelical women, 57 percent of whom backed his candidacy in the entrance poll.
The top candidate quality among Republican caucusgoers in the poll was someone who "shares my values," with Huckabee winning 44 percent of these voters, Romney 26 percent. Huckabee won among Republicans, but among independents -- who made up just 13 percent of the Iowa GOP electorate but are more of a factor in New Hampshire -- 29 percent supported Texas Rep. Ron Paul, 23 percent Ariz. Sen. John McCain, 19 percent Romney and 17 percent Huckabee.
Obama's victory in the first official vote of 2008 came from a large influx of first-time caucusgoers and significant support from political independents. Nearly six in 10 Democratic participants said they had not caucused before, and they preferred Obama by double-digit margins over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina senator John Edwards. And while Clinton ran about evenly with Obama among Democrats, Obama outpaced both of his main rivals among independents, who made up 20 percent of voters and broke 41 percent for Obama, 23 percent for Edwards and 17 percent for Clinton.
The Illinois senator also benefited from an influx of young voters. Nearly a quarter of Democratic caucusgoers were under 30, up somewhat from 2004, and they overwhelmingly favored Obama, 57 percent to 14 percent for Edwards and 11 percent for Clinton. By contrast, among seniors, 45 percent initially supported Clinton, 22 percent Edwards and 18 percent Obama.
In Iowa, Obama also neutralized Clinton's massive advantage among women in national polls, as Post-ABC and Des Moines Register polls indicated. In the entrance poll, Obama was the top choice among both men and women.
Edison/Mitofsky conducted the entrance poll for the NEP, a consortium of ABC News, AP, CBS News, CNN, Fox News and NBC News. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
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