The younger, newer GOP caucus-goers tonight went for Ron Paul, who had the support of more than half the voters under age 30, and 38% of those attending their first caucus, according to entrance polls.
Evangelicals, who still represent roughly three-fifths of caucus-goers, went for Rick Santorum: 30 % named him their top pick – but Ron Paul was second, at 21%. Mitt Romney’s 13% share may have placed him a distant third in that category, essentially tied with Newt Gingrich’s 14% and Rick Perry’s 13 – but among non-evangelicals, he led the pack, with 35% of that vote, to Ron Paul’s 28.
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Four years ago, Republican caucus-goers were looking for a candidate they could believe in: 45% said their top priority was a candidate who shared their values. Just 7% said electability was their main concern.
This time around, that last-place factor is the biggest motivator for caucus-goers: 32% tonight said the most important quality in a candidate was the ability to beat President Obama this fall. But they haven't completely abandoned purity for pragmatism: 24% said their biggest priority was picking a true conservative.
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Four years ago, Iowa’s independents had to decide whether to participate in a competitive Republican contest, or an equally dramatic Democratic faceoff. Not this year. That was reflected in the makeup of tonight’s caucuses; the percentage of independents may have more than doubled, from 13% four years ago to 27% in early entrance polls - and 41% of the voters who participated tonight were attending their very first GOP caucus.
The wave of independents may have shifted the ideological needle closer to the center: the percentage of caucus-goers who describe themselves as moderate or liberal has jumped from 12% in 2008 to 20%. But the percentage who call themselves very conservative hasn’t budged: 46% use that description – virtually identical to the 45% who answered that way four years ago.
Just last week – after months filled with thousands of campaign ads, and almost as many Pizza Ranch campaign stops - nearly half the likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers in the CNN/Time/ORC survey said they still hadn’t decided which candidate to back tonight (or that they had, but still weren’t completely sold on their choice.)
Tonight, 19 percent of the voters in early entrance polls made their picks in the past month; another 25% made the call in the past few days; and 15 % say they made the decision today – if those numbers hold, that could mean there were fewer late-deciders overall than there were four years ago, when those numbers were 31, 23 and 17.
Reporter's Note: The Iowa caucuses are today. Yes, I know. Yay.
Dear Mr. President,
Here is a dirty secret of mine which, if I were ambitious enough, I’d probably send to Post Secret: I’ve never really cared much for politics or political news coverage. By and large I find it all too depressing, dull, and most importantly, disconnected from real life as most of us know it.
So you can imagine that all this noise from Iowa brings out mixed feelings. On one hand, I understand that picking a president is an awfully important task, and we ought to know what is happening each step along the way. On the other hand, I get tired of hearing the same old talking points, the same old cheap insults, the same old predictions, boasts, and excuses. And it really is all the same.
Do you honestly think that you have changed America so much in your three years in office that the country is unrecognizable? I’m not taking a shot at you. I’m just asking: Do you think any president ever really makes the kind of profound difference to real Americans that you all promise when you are on the campaign trail? I would argue not. Oh sure, you all make incremental differences, and if they are sustained long enough through successive administrations and Congresses, they can matter.
But mostly what happens is this: Every four years the two parties swarm the early voting and battleground states with yet another series of accusations and promises; accusations that the other party is somehow screwing the country into the ground, and promises that (insert party name here) will somehow bring back the American Garden of Eden and all will be right with the world. Voters get all riled up. The polls open and close. Someone wins, someone loses.
And then the party operatives go back to DC, and we all wake up to realize that precious little has changed. The people who don’t have jobs, still don’t have them. Housing values are still in the toilet. Faith in government is still there too.
That’s why I am interested in all this talk about Iowa, but only to a point. The real test is not who wins tonight, or who you will run against, or whether you win or lose. The real test will be a couple of years from now, when we all get to see if anything comes out of all this noise that will actually make life better for most Americans.
We’re just a few hours away from the first entrance polls of the 2012 race. The release will probably tell us quite a bit about how the campaign is playing out so far with primary season voters who’ve had the most exposure to the candidates. But first, it’s important to take a look at what they won’t.
Entrance polls are a bit different than exit polls; they take the pulse of voters just before, not after they head in to vote. They might not tell us who the winner will be, especially not in the early going. But they’re still worth watching. Here’s why:
Think of them as a giant focus group: They can give us a partial snapshot of who showed up today in one small part of the country, and what drove their vote. They can show which candidate had the most momentum, by letting us know who late deciders broke for, and some of the factors that may have driven their decision. They can give us our first real clue as to the candidates’ relative strength (or weakness) with key GOP voting blocs like evangelicals and tea party supporters; important demographic blocs like women and seniors; and highly-prized independent voters. And they can give us an initial glimpse of how enthusiastic a candidate’s supporters are – a key ingredient in any successful general election campaign.
Later tonight, we’ll get the final vote tally out of Iowa. The entrance polls will give us our first hint as to how and why we got there.
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