DES MOINES, IOWA-The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday revealed that 55 percent of likely caucusgoers in Iowa are still undecided or persuadable voters. Wednesday evening, ABC News was able to get a glimpse into the mind of some young Iowans that will attend next month’s caucuses, most of them undecided voters.
At two different focus groups, Iowans between the ages of 22 and 29 split into different groups by party affiliation spoke frankly about their lives, politics and during the Republican group, who they are thinking of caucusing for next month.
The focus groups were sponsored by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and the Culver Public Policy Center at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Although it’s hard to say that a focus group is representative of the average voter, it was a window into the mind of a young caucusgoer in the Hawkeye state.
During the Republican focus group all confirmed they would indeed participate in the Jan. 3rd caucuses. Out of the eight, six voted for John McCain, one voted for Barack Obama, and another, a 25-year-old former Marine, now a student from the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny, was serving in Iraq and did not vote.
The one Obama voter, a 27-year-old who is also a former marine from the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale said he voted for Obama last time, but he’s “disappointed” now.
“I had hoped that he would be more effective as a leader. I thought his charismatic disposition would affect change,” the now businessmen said. ABC News was invited to observe the focus group, but could not identify participants.
He caucused for Mitt Romney in the last cycle, but said John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 “sealed the deal for me,” because he felt she wasn’t prepared and he worried about McCain’s age. He remains undecided this cycle and said he probably won’t decide until two weeks before. Despite his disappointment, he was pleased with one accomplishment of the president’s.
“Hearing that Osama Bin Laden got whacked was some good emotional security, but you see it didn’t even raise [Obama's] approval rating very much,” the former Marine and Urbandale resident said.
Most of the group was still deciding, but three of the eight were “locked in” to candidates. A 26-year-old mother from Polk City who home schools her children said she was “positive” she’s voting for Rick Santorum.
A 27-year-old Internet analyst from Clive, another Des Moines suburb, has chosen Ron Paul and is also volunteering for him.
“This is the first year I’ve found a candidate I’m excited about,” he said.
Another student and mother of a four year old from Altoona also said she was also committed to Ron Paul.
The group all agreed that their state being the first place that casts a ballot is important.
“Iowa really decides who the field is going to be and I don’t know if all of Iowa realizes that,” the student and former Marine from Ankeny said. “I think it’s so pathetic so many don’t vote, but they are so quick to speak up.”
The other five were undecided, just four weeks out from the caucuses. A 26-year-old stay-at-home mother of two from Des Moines said she “thinks it’s her responsibility” to caucus, but doesn’t feel inspired by any of the candidates. She supported Mike Huckabee four years ago and wishes he was running again.
“For me it’s the candidate,” she said, before mentioning the reasons she didn’t want to support Newt Gingrich and Romney. “He had cheated on his wife, well he ran companies into the ground. It’s trying to choose between two evils.”
The former marine and current student said he was “leaning towards Ron Paul, but I haven’t made that decision.”
Another participant, a 26-year-old nurse from Altoona said she was a Huckabee supporter as well, but finds this field “very wish washy.”
Another participant, a 22-year-old substitute teacher from Des Moines moved to the state because she couldn’t get a teaching job in Texas. She’s leaning toward her home state governor: Rick Perry.
“Rick Perry, he’s no debater, but I like to look beyond the debates,” she said. “His record is solid.”
The moderator, who is a focus group and survey analyst for Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, asked her how she could favor Perry when she had to leave the state to find work. She said Perry was “brave enough to cut the budget” and blamed schools and the state legislature for a smaller teacher budget.
“I see schools with huge football stadiums and they are firing math and science teachers and hiring coaches,” she said. “His record is solid.”
The moderator asked the Ron Paul volunteer and Internet analyst from Clive if he also agreed with Ron Paul’s foreign policy stances.
“Admittedly that was the hardest thing for me to maybe get over,” he said. “He’s consistent through and through. It’s not isolationism, its non-intervention, participating in the world, but not getting involved where we don’t need to be.”
The moderator asked if anyone in the group was thinking about supporting Gingrich. The former speaker to the U.S. House topped the ABC News/Washington Post poll with 33 percent support, but none of the GOP participants said they were considering him.
He then asked if anyone liked Romney, which received a lukewarm at best, negative at worst reaction.
The former marine who was in Iraq during the last cycle and is now a student immediately responded, “I just can’t stop thinking about his hair.”
The 26-year-old stay-at-home mom from Des Moines agreed.
“You can’t trust a guy with immaculate hair,” she said. “I don’t feel like I can trust him, he seems too smooth … I’ve heard something about businesses going bankrupt and all the people lost their jobs. I don’t know anything specific about it, but we are trying to get jobs.”
The 26-year-old nurse from Altoona agreed: “I just feel like I can’t trust him.”
None of the eight said they were even considering the former Massachusetts governor.
The moderator asked if his religion, Romney is a Mormon, affected their feelings about him.
The nurse said that it did and she’d “like to relate to someone on multiple levels.”
The 27-year-old Ron Paul supporter said it had no impact on why he didn’t like him: “I could care less. I just think he’s a complete phony.”
The second group was made up of eight Democrats who all voted for Obama in the general election including three who caucused for him. Wednesday evening, all said they felt lukewarm or disappointed by Obama.
A 26-year-old Administrative Assistant at Drake University in Des Moines only moved to the state three years ago so she could not caucus for Obama in 2008, but did support him.
“I was passionate about him,” she said. “Now I feel lukewarm, disappointed. Well, I just felt like I really got behind-not that I thought it would be a huge change … but, he doesn’t have the sway-the way of getting things done in a bipartisan way that he hoped to.”
She said she would still vote for him in November because he’s the “lesser of two evils.” The second time the phrase was used in the evening.
Another Obama supporter, an organic farmer from Des Moines said the president came in at a “tough time,” but he “campaigned to change Washington” and “he really hasn’t changed anything about Washington. I can’t blame him for the economy, but I can blame him for the politics.”
The most engaged of the group was a 29-year-old director of a children’s center in Des Moines. She said she caucused for Hillary Clinton, but voted for Obama and is now so frustrated and disappointed with the president that she may support Ron Paul in November.
She also said she doesn’t think Obama knows how to wield his power in Washington: “In politics you have to line pockets, shake hands and he doesn’t know how to do that and we are seeing evidence of that in the supercommittee. It was destined to fail,” she said. “He’s not able to work in that sphere and that’s why we have gridlock.”
She said there is a “big chance” she won’t support Obama, and she is considering Paul adding that he’s “probably the only Republican candidate I think has solid enough ideas that would change a lot of the problems plaguing us.”
She said she would enthusiastically support another Democrat if another candidate would take on the president and said she wished Paul was “electable” because “he has some really good, creative ideas.”
Almost all of the participants in the Democratic group had positive things to say about Paul, with several saying they would consider voting for him.
*Note: ABC’s Gary Langer points out that although these young people are likely caucusgoers, young undecideds are less likely to actually particpate in the caucuses. Originally, this story said 6 out of 10 likely caucusgoers were still undecided or persuadable, it is actually slightly less at 55 percent.