Schisms galore marked the Iowa caucuses, with enough divisions in the Republican and Democratic parties to make the contests look like a political calculus class.
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In the Republican race, three competing groups emerged: Voters focused on values, who gave the prize to Ted Cruz and the razz to Donald Trump; those centered on a political outsider, who were all about Trump; and electability voters, who turned instead to Marco Rubio.
Then there was the Democratic side, with equally severe splits – Hillary Clinton whomping among voters focused on experience and electability; Bernie Sanders cleaning up among those who cared most about honesty and trustworthiness or a candidate who “cares about people like me.” A virtual tie ensued.
The results of the Iowa entrance polls, analyzed for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, leave open questions for both sides on how soon – and how well – these rifts may heal. Each of these top five finishers showed strengths; each also showed substantial vulnerabilities, clouding the view as the campaigns troop on to New Hampshire and beyond.
The Republican Race
In the GOP contest, Cruz’s narrow victory seems best defined by four factors: Big turnout by evangelicals (a group customarily in short supply in New Hampshire), broad backing from strong conservatives, strength among values voters and a solid ground game. Consider:
• Evangelicals accounted for 64 percent of GOP caucus-goers in Iowa, up by 7 percentage points from 2012 to a new high in entrance polls dating back to 1988. Cruz won a third of them, vs. 22 percent for Trump and 21 percent for Rubio.
• Those calling themselves “very” conservative accounted for 40 percent of participants. While that was down 7 points from 2012, Cruz cruised in this group, with 44 percent support vs. 21 percent for Trump and 15 percent for Rubio.
• Forty-two percent of GOP caucus-goers said they were chiefly interested in a candidate who “shares my values,” the top attribute by far. Cruz won 38 percent in this group, vs. 21 percent for Rubio, 15 percent for Ben Carson… and a piddling 5 percent for Trump.
• On the ground game, 41 percent of Cruz’s voters said they’d been personally contacted about coming out to support their candidate. That compares to 35 percent among Trump supporters and 32 percent among those who backed Rubio.
Trump’s weakness among voters focused on values could be a real challenge for him in future contests. That said, his outsider status remains his ace in the hole – nearly half of GOP caucus-goers said they were looking for a political outsider, and Trump won 46 percent of them, an impressive tally in an 11-candidate contest. Further, 45 percent said it was the first time they’d attended a Republican caucus in Iowa – up 7 points from 2012 – and Trump won 30 percent of then, ahead of Cruz and Rubio by 7 and 8 points, respectively.
Still, while Trump did especially well with early deciders (39 percent support from those who picked their candidate more than a month ago), those who decided more recently split between Cruz and Rubio, with Trump third – raising the question of whether he can light a fire with late deciders elsewhere. If so, he’ll do it as the candidate who “can bring needed change” and “tells it like it is”; his support on the former was significant; on the latter, well, yuge. (Immigration, his signature issue, was selected as the top concern by only 13 percent in Iowa.)
Cruz crowded Trump from the right, the two splitting the four in 10 caucus-goers voters who said they’re not just unhappy but downright angry with the way the federal government is working. That left room for a run by Rubio, finishing a solid third by prevailing among voters mainly interested in backing a winner in November, as well as those focused on the economy. Rubio also did well with college graduates and among those stressing experience over outsider status.
The Democratic Contest
In the Democratic contest, women, moderates, mainline Democrats and fans of Barack Obama’s policies boosted Clinton, while Sanders countered with very liberal caucus-goers, independents, young people and first-time participants.
The difference on attributes were vast: Eighty-three percent of Clinton’s support came from voters who cared chiefly about electability or experience. By contrast, 78 percent of Sanders’ support came from those focused mostly on honesty and trustworthiness or a candidate who “cares about people like me.”
Honesty and relatability are longstanding Clinton deficits; their role in Iowa makes clear the hazards they pose to her candidacy. But she has substantial pushback, and part of that comes from a friend in a high place. A majority of Democratic caucus-goers, 55 percent, said the next president should generally follow Barack Obama’s policies, rather than pursue more liberal or less liberal approaches. And those who lined up with Obama were an especially strong group for Clinton, 68-26 percent vs. Sanders.
There were sharp gender and age divisions. Clinton prevailed among women, Sanders among men, with higher turnout among women (57 percent of participants) key to her competitiveness. And while Sanders was amazingly strong among under-30s – 84 percent support in this group – their turnout wasn’t up from 2012 (they accounted for 18 percent of participants Monday vs. 22 percent eight years ago).
Further, the entrance poll found a substantial drop in the number of first-time caucus goers compared with the 2008 Democratic caucuses – 44 percent of attendees this year, compared with 57 percent in 2008. First-timers boosted Obama eight years ago and they helped Sanders on Monday – he won the group by 59-37 percent. More of them would’ve helped him.
The gender and age divisions boiled down nicely this way: Sanders led by a vast 36 points among unmarried (i.e., mainly younger) men, 66-30 percent. It was far closer among unmarried women, 53-43 percent for Sanders. Clinton won married men and women alike, but especially married women, 60-34 percent.
Clinton also countered strongly with repeat caucus-goers and seniors, whose turnout was up. She won mainline Democrats by 56-39 percent, while Sanders took independents by a double-wide 43-point margin. The latter result is a good sign for Sanders in New Hampshire, where independents are particularly numerous.
The very close Clinton-Sanders contest occurred among a remarkably liberal electorate: A record 68 percent of Democratic caucus-goers were liberals, up dramatically, from 32 percent in 1988 and 54 percent in 2008. By contrast, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents nationally in the last ABC News/Washington Post poll, just 41 percent were liberals.
It was “very” liberals, in particular, who boosted Sanders; they accounted for 28 percent of caucus-goers, up from 18 percent eight years ago, and he won them by a 19-point margin. Clinton was more competitive among “somewhat” liberals and especially moderates – a 23-point lead in that group.
Finally in the Democratic contest there’s the question of race. Whites accounted for 91 percent of Democratic caucus-goers – a lot, even if low by Iowa Democratic caucus standards. Whites also dominate in New Hampshire. But they accounted for 65 percent of voters across all Democratic primaries in 2008. And among the 9 percent of non-white Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa on Monday, Clinton won by a wide margin, 58-34 percent.
Analysis by Gary Langer, with Gregory Holyk, Julie Phelan, Chad Kiewiet de Jonge, Margaret Tyson, Sofi Sinozich and Ally Brodsky.