Broad interest in "change" among Democrats and overwhelming Republican turnout by evangelicals spelled victory for a pair of insurgents in Thursday's Iowa caucuses, opening the 2008 election cycle with a boom.
Young voters, independents and first-time caucus-goers lifted Barack Obama to victory, along with his theme of a new direction in politics. Remarkably, he even beat Hillary Clinton among women.
While a range of factors rumbled through the Democratic race, the Republican contest was essentially about one thing: religion. Evangelical Christians accounted for a remarkable six in 10 GOP caucus-goers, and they favored Huckabee, a Baptist minister, over Mitt Romney, who's Mormon, by a broad 46-19 percent.
Among the remaining, non-evangelical Republican voters, by contrast, only about one in seven supported Huckabee, and Romney won easily, with 33 percent. In this group John McCain had 18 percent support, Fred Thompson 17 percent, Huckabee 14 percent.
That raises the question of how well Huckabee's appeal can travel. There are far fewer evangelicals in some other states, notably New Hampshire; and their share in the Iowa caucuses, a low-turnout event in which a highly motivated group can have a large impact, may be hard to replicate elsewhere.
In the Democratic contest, "change" was a huge factor; 52 percent of caucus-goers said the most important candidate characteristic to was bringing "needed change," more than twice the size of the next most-desired attribute. Obama won them by 2-1, with 51 percent support in this group to 20 percent for Edwards and 19 percent for Clinton.
Clinton came back strongly among those who called experience the most important candidate characteristic, with 49 percent support, to 20 percent for Bill Richardson, 9 percent for Edwards and just 5 percent for Obama. Edwards, for his part, did well on empathy; among those who said it mattered most, he won 44 percent support, compared with 24 percent for Obama and 22 percent for Clinton. But the sheer size of the vote for change overwhelmed those results.
These findings are from the network-sponsored entrance poll in Iowa, which measured preferences of voters as they headed into their caucuses. That does not reflect final results in the Democratic race, because Democratic rules have supporters of non-competitive candidates pick a second choice. Obama, as it turns out, won both initial and final preferences; Clinton and Edwards were essentially tried for second place in final choices.
There was a vast generation gap in the Democratic race, with younger voters very broadly for Obama while Clinton did best by far among seniors. Among all caucus-goers under age 45, a smashing 50 percent supported Obama, compared with just 17 percent for Edwards and 16 percent for Clinton.
Among those under 30, Obama went even higher, to 57 percent. Among seniors, by contrast -- nearly a quarter of participants -- it was Clinton 45 percent, Edwards 22, Obama 18. But turnout by young adults was up; the share of caucus goers under age 30 has increased from 9 percent of participants in 2000 to 17 percent in 2004 and 22 percent this year. Turnout among seniors was down by 5 points from 2004, to 22 percent.
Obama also won by a very sizable margin among independents, about a fifth of caucus goers, with 41 percent support to Edwards' 23 percent and Clinton's 17 percent.