Change, Religion Main Themes for Voters

Iowa Republicans braved the frigid cold tonight in search of a straight-talking candidate with religious conviction, while for Democrats the choice boiled down to a desire for change.

On the Republican side, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee benefited from the huge importance of faith to caucus-goers. Evangelical Christians accounted for a whopping six in 10 voters — 46 percent of whom supported Huckabee, more than double former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 19 percent.

Nearly four in 10 Republican caucus participants said it matters "a great deal" that candidates share their religious beliefs, and Huckabee wins 56 percent in this group, with Romney and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., far behind at 11 percent apiece (85 percent in this group are evangelicals).

By contrast, among those who said sharing religious belief is not important — about a third of caucus-goers — Romney won 39 percent, and Huckabee just 11 percent.

Huckabee also attracted those looking for a straight-talking candidate with values. He beat Romney by wide margins among voters who cared most about a candidate who "shares my values" (44-26 percent) or who "says what he believes" (33-14 percent, a particular weakness for Romney).

Romney beat Huckabee by even wider margins among those who cared most about the candidate who has the right experience (37-9 percent) or who has the best chance to win in November (51-8 percent). Unfortunately for him, those were not high priorities for caucus participants.

Priorities Different for Democrats

Iowa Democrats also went out with different priorities in mind, choosing Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as the candidate best suited to bring change.

After seven years out of power in Washington, change was, by far, the most important factor for Iowa Democrats. More than half — 51 percent — said their top priority was a candidate who would "bring about needed change." And more than half — 51 percent — of those eager for change backed Obama. That's more than John Edwards (20 percent) and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. (19 percent) combined.

Clinton's repeated emphasis on experience gave her the strong edge among caucus participants for whom that was the most important quality. Forty-nine percent of them supported her to just 9 percent for Edwards and 5 percent for Obama.

Caucus-goers were least concerned with which candidate has the best chance to win in November, with only 8 percent saying that was important.

Remarkably, even women — who accounted for 57 percent of participants — chose the man from Illinois over the prospect of choosing the Democratic Party's first female presidential candidate. Obama beat Clinton among women, 35 percent to 30 percent.

Obama also enjoyed a sizable lead among independents — about a fifth of the caucus-goers and a weak base of support for Clinton. Obama won 41 percent of independents, about equal to the total of both Edwards (23 percent) and Clinton (just 17 percent). Union voters, about 22 percent of the caucus participants, split between Clinton and Obama.

There's a vast generation gap in the Democratic race, with younger voters strongly backing Obama. Clinton's best group, by far, Americans 65 years old and older, who make up about 22 percent of the participants. Among those age 17 to 29 years old (just over a fifth of the electorate), Obama gets a smashing 57 percent support to Edwards 14 percent and Clinton's 11 percent. Among older Americans, by contrast, it's Clinton 45 percent, Edwards 22, Obama 18.

Contributing to this story were Peyton Craighill, Rich Morin, Patrick Moynihan and Robert Shapiro.