2016 USA primaries: #2 – Iowa results

by Jackie_South on February 7, 2016

Iowa iconYou know the results: despite the polls, Trump did not win and Clinton only just did.

So, why did the polls appear to get it wrong?

First, it is worth remembering that caucuses are difficult to poll for: FiveThirtyEight said on the eve of the caucuses that they understated their real margin of error and this should really be around 8%. If so, the previously lauded Des Moines Register got the result ‘right’: every candidate got within 8 percent of its results (albeit only just in Marco Rubio’s and Bernie Sanders’ cases). Best that was not true for all the polls – the Des Moines Register got the outcome less wrong than its rivals.

Below is a comparison of the Des Moines Register poll and the actual result for the Republicans.

Iowa Republican result 2016

And here is the same comparison for the Democrats.

Iowa Democrat result 2016

But a poll that is only accurate within an eight percent tolerance is not a great deal of use. So, why were they this far adrift?

  1. The Republicans

There were  two clear winners on the night: Ted Cruz, who topped the ballot, and Marco Rubio, who came third but surpassed expectations and has been declared the leading ‘moderate’ candidate. That is a pretty odd description of moderate: Rubio is a very right wing politician, just not quite as right-wing as a number of the others.

The losers: Donald Trump and the rest of the field. Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul have already dropped out as a result of their poor showing.

The map below shows the counties won by Cruz, Trump and Rubio. Whilst Rubio only won five counties, where he did is telling: more urban, liberal counties, including those covering Des Moines and the university town of Iowa City. The pattern is less clear for Cruz and Trump counties, although the more Republican voting ones tended to vote more for Cruz.

GOP Iowa map

There were a number of factors.

Trump appeared to rely on his media image and grand rallies, whilst Cruz had a stronger ground game: field offices in all 99 counties, and precinct captains for 1,537 of the 1,681 polling places and 10,000 people working (largely as volunteers) on the campaign. That ground game was crucial getting voters to go and making sure that the ones that went would vote for their candidate. Entrance polls (the US version of exit polls) show that Trump led among the 45% who had never been to a caucus before, but was a poor third (19% to Cruz’s 32%) of those who had previously caucused.

A second factor is who voted. According to the entrance poll, Cruz won across age and gender groups. Rubio won amongst graduates, Trump amongst those that had never been to college. The clearer divides were on religion and ideology. 40% of those voting saw themselves as ‘very conservative’ – a group that gave 44% of its support to Cruz. Trump did not win among the 45% who thought themselves ‘somewhat conservative’ either: Rubio won this group. Trump did lead (somewhat strangely) among moderate voters, but that was only 14% of the turnout.

Cruz also won handsomely among born again/ evangelical voters, and their turnout was massive: 64% of all those that voted. 42% of voters said that the most important characteristic that they were looking for was someone that shared their values: 38% said that was Cruz, only 5% that it was Trump.

Thirdly, the issues. Trump had a massive level of support – 44% – of those that thought immigration was the most important issue, but that was only 13% of the voters. The most important issue (32%) to Republican voters, according to the entrance poll, was government spending, a category that Cruz led on whilst Trump trailed in third place. You might think that the 27% who thought that jobs and the economy was the top issue might vote for businessman Trump, but he came second here – 6% behind Rubio who has never run anything.

Finally, there were key differences in when voters decided who they would support, and this is part of why the polls got it wrong. Trump voters made their minds up early: 39% of the voters that made up their mind before the New Year (35% of the total) backed him. Cruz supporters seem to have made up their mind later: 32% of the 20% who made up their mind in the last month, 36% of the 10% that did so in the last week. But 35% made up their mind in the last few days, including 16% that did so on the day. Of that 35%, 30% backed Rubio, 25% Cruz and only 14% Trump. Rubio had a very real late surge in support.

  1. The Democrats

Whilst the polls picked the right winner in Iowa, they almost did not. The finish was razor-edged: 70,059 for Clinton, 69,682 for Sanders – a gap of just 0.2%. The map below shows the margins of victory for each across the state:

Dem Iowa map

Whilst Clinton won Des Moines, Sanders won most of the other urban counties and did particularly well in the east of the state.

Unlike the Republicans, there was a clear gender bias in the voting: 57% were women, and tended to vote for Hillary. Men tended to vote for Sanders, as did younger voters: he secured an astonishing 84% of the vote of under 30s (18% of those voting). Clinton won heavily among the over-45s: taking 69% of the 65+ vote (28% of the turnout). Married voters went Clinton, unmarried to Sanders.

Income was another divider: Sanders won the vote of the 41% who earned less than $50,000 a year, Clinton those that earned over this amount. Unsurprisingly, Sanders won amongst those who saw themselves as liberal, Clinton among the moderates.

On issues, Clinton won the support of voters who picked the top two for the Democrats: healthcare and economy and jobs. Sanders did well among the 27% who thought the top issue was income inequality. But it was the qualities of the candidates that seemed a clearer divide. Clinton got over three-quarters of the support of those that thought being able to win the election or being experienced was the most important quality. But half of the voters thought honesty or caring were more important, and Sanders had 83% of the support of the former and 74% of the latter.

Finally, a factor that will not feature again. Martin O’Malley had 3% of the support, according to the entrance poll, but only 0.5% of the final tally. That is because voters for ‘unviable’ candidates in a caucus meeting can move over to other candidates for the final result. It is clear that they overwhelmingly backed Sanders over Clinton when making that shift. That won’t happen again: O’Malley has now dropped out of the process.

  1. Looking forward

I’ll cover Tuesday’s New Hampshire caucus shortly, but this is the current state of play. Trump always looked more likely to win the next three contests – New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – than Iowa and this is still the case. Stopping him relies on the field thinning out further.

Rubio is probably best placed to do that: he is running second in the New Hampshire polls, a state where the Republicans tend to be more moderate. But that brings its challenges too: more moderate candidates will want to break through in New Hampshire and stop Rubio picking up second place: Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich are all hoping that Rubio will stumble. A clear lead over them by Rubio is likely to mean that one or more of those three will drop out.

Cruz was never going to do well in New Hampshire, and so he is working South Carolina. His undivided attention there may pay the same sort of results amongst those conservative Republicans as his hard work on the ground in Iowa did. Doing well there could help him in Super Tuesday. The pols still favour Trump there, and by more than they did in Iowa, but history could repeat itself.

Rand Paul, Rick Santorumand Mike Huckabee have all fallen on their swords.

For the Democrats, Sanders will win New Hampshire, and this has already been priced into the Clinton campaign narrative. But Clinton will win South Carolina and (probably) Nevada, and her money will see her win the lion’s share of Super Tuesday. Sanders’ New Hampshire victory and Iowa near-miss will soon just be a footnote in the 2016 election.

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