CBS News Political Consultant Monika L. McDermott analyzes the outcome of the Iowa caucuses.
Voter concern about health care and the economy boosted Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry to victory in the Iowa caucuses. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who finished second, also benefited from voter concern with these two issues, according to a CBS News entrance poll of caucus-goers.
Third-place finisher Howard Dean, the early front-runner, was hurt by the fact that his signature issue – opposition to the war in Iraq – did not resonate with caucus-goers as much as had been anticipated.
Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, who finished a disappointing fourth, lost the battle for union support to Kerry despite the fact that organized labor had been seen as Gephardt's strong suit.
According to the entrance polls, Dean's strong opposition to the war in Iraq did not pay off for him in the end. While 75 percent of caucus attendees said they disapproved of the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq, the issue was not the most important in deciding their vote. The most decisive issues cited by caucus attendees were health care, 28 percent, and the economy and jobs, 29 percent.
Among those citing health care, Kerry was the clear favorite, with 38 percent. Among voters citing the economy, Edwards and Kerry split support, receiving 33 percent and 34 percent respectively.
While Dean won among voters who said Iraq was the most important issue, only 14 percent of caucus attendees cited the issue as No. 1. Similarly, 14 percent of voters cited education as their top issue, and among them Kerry received 38 percent and Edwards 30 percent.
In addition to the issues, Kerry also benefited from a late surge in the campaign - nearly half of his support - 46 percent - came from voters deciding their vote in the last week of the campaign. Edwards also surged in the final week – 57 percent of his supporters said they decided to support him during that time.
Among those deciding in the final week of the campaign, Kerry won 39 percent support, and Edwards won 35 percent. In a sign of Dean's faltering momentum, only 14 percent of those deciding their vote in the last week chose to support him, compared to 26 percent of those who decided earlier in the race.
Demographically, Kerry's lead came from many sources. The oldest caucus attendees, those above 65 years of age, supported Kerry, as did those with less than a college education. Despite much talk of Dean's popularity with young voters, Kerry also won the most support among 17-to-29-year-olds – 35 percent to Dean's 25 percent. Liberal voters went for Kerry with 33 percent giving 25 percent support to Edwards, and 24 percent support to Dean. Moderate and conservative voters preferred Kerry by larger margins.
Surprisingly, Kerry also won the most support among union households, a likely factor in Gephardt's poor finish. Kerry received 29 percent of their support, compared to only 22 percent for Gephardt. Edwards also won 22 percent of union household support, and Dean received 19 percent.
Another problem for Gephardt was the relatively low importance of one of his pet issues – foreign trade. While Gephardt won nearly half of the support from voters who cited trade as the most decisive issue in the race, these voters made up only 4 percent of the overall caucus electorate.
Each candidate's voters came to the caucuses looking for different things, but substantial numbers agreed that beating President Bush in November was an important factor.
Kerry's supporters said they backed him because they think he has the right experience (30 percent) and that he can beat Mr. Bush in November (28 percent). Dean's supporters said they like him because he takes strong stands on the issues – 45 percent cited it as his most important quality and another 27 percent said they felt he could beat Mr. Bush in November, and that was the most important quality to them.
Gephardt and Edwards voters both said they feel their candidate cared about them – 35 percent of each group respectively – and 31 percent of Edwards' voters further said they felt that he could beat Mr. Bush.
Turnout in the caucuses was high, with many first-time attendees. Fifty-five percent of attendees said they had never attended a caucus before.
Poll results are based on a National Election Pool entrance poll conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International with 1,666 caucus attendees. The poll has a margin of error of + 4 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.