Why Obama Won

CBS News Political Consultant Monika L. McDermott analyzes Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic Iowa caucuses.

Barack Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses was driven by his support from a new political generation, according to a CBS News entrance poll of Democratic caucus-goers.

In a night of record turnout for the Democratic caucuses, Obama and his message of change captured the vote of the first-time caucus-goers, as well as the votes of young people and political independents.

Well over half of those attending the Democratic presidential caucuses - 57 percent - were attending their first caucus ever, and their choice for the nomination was Obama, with 41 percent support. Hillary Clinton received only 29 percent of first-time votes, and John Edwards trailed with 18 percent. (Among those who attended a caucus previously, Edwards - an Iowa caucus veteran from 2004 - won with 30 percent of the vote.)

It was among young caucus-goers, however, where Obama truly carried the evening. Attendees under 30 voted 57 percent for Obama, compared to only 14 percent for Edwards and 11 percent for Clinton. Among Gen X-ers - 30 to 44 year-olds - Obama received 42 percent to Edwards' 21 percent and Clinton's 23 percent.

In contrast to Obama's strong support among the young, Edwards and Clinton appealed to older voters. Edwards won Baby Boomers with 31 percent, to 28 percent for Clinton and 27 percent for Obama. Clinton handily won the senior vote with 45 percent of those 65 and older, compared to 22 percent and 18 percent for Edwards and Obama respectively.

Obama's message of change resonated strongly among Iowa Democrats. When asked which candidate quality mattered most to them - bringing about change, caring about people, having the right experience, or electability - 52 percent said having someone who could bring about change mattered most to their choice. Among these caucus-goers, 51 percent supported Obama, swamping Edwards and Clinton who received 20 percent and 19 percent support apiece.

Edwards' strong suit was his ability to empathize with people. Nineteen percent of attendees said having a candidate who cared about people like them was their most important character consideration, and 44 percent of them supported Edwards.

Among the 20 percent of voters who cared most about experience, Clinton received a strong 49 percent. Clinton's foreign policy experience specifically may have served her well. Forty-five percent of caucus-goers said that the recent crisis in Pakistan was very important to their vote, and among this group Clinton pulled even with Obama, 33 percent to 31 percent respectively.

Demonstrating broad-based support, Obama also won the independents and handful of Republicans who attended the Democratic caucuses. Among the Democrats in the caucus pool, Obama split the vote with Clinton, 32 percent to 31 percent, with Edwards receiving 23 percent.

In perhaps the most surprising showing of the night, Clinton's expected support among women did not materialize. Women made up 57 percent of Democratic caucus attendees, but they handed their support to Obama, who beat Clinton 35 percent to 30 percent. Men gave Obama 35 percent support, with 24 percent for Edwards and 23 percent for Clinton.

Poll results are based on a National Election Pool entrance poll conducted by Edison Media Research. Interviews were conducted with 2,136 caucus attendees as they entered caucus sites around the state. The margin of error for the poll is +2 percentage points.

Monika L. McDermott is assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches and conducts research on voting behavior and public opinion. Before joining the University of Connecticut, McDermott worked in election polling for CBS News and the Los Angeles Times. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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