Expert Commentary

Comparing caucus and registered voter support for the 2008 presidential candidates in Iowa

2008 study in PS: Political Science & Politics on the demographics and voting behaviors of Iowa 2008 voters and caucus attendees.

As more states “front-load” their presidential primaries to ensure the relevance of their outcomes early in the primary cycle, the nominating process has become increasingly condensed into the first few months of the election year. Iowa’s 2012 presidential caucuses are now scheduled for January 3.

A 2008 study from the University of Iowa published in PS: Political Science & Politics, “Comparing Caucus and Registered Voter Support for the 2008 Presidential Candidates in Iowa” (PDF), examined survey data from Iowa voters before the last presidential race, during the spring and summer of 2007. Survey participants included 1,290 registered voters and likely caucus attendees, 907 registered voters, and 787 potential caucus attendees, of which 555 — or 70% — were “very likely” to attend.

Key study findings include:

  • Both Republican and Democratic Iowa caucus attendees were generally better educated (more than half are college graduates), earned more money, and were somewhat older than the parties’ voters as a whole. Republican caucus attendees were also more likely to be male, and “a little bit older than registered Republicans as a whole in Iowa.”
  • Likely caucus attendees in both parties tended to be more partisan than the general electorate. Of those surveyed in August 2007, 62% ideologically identified as strongly Democrat and 56% as strongly Republican. In contrast, only 17% of those weakly Democratic and 29% of those weakly Republican reported that they planned to attend the caucuses.
  • In March 2007, Clinton (24%), Edwards (23%) and Obama (17%) topped the candidate list for Iowan Democratic voters, while McCain (15%), Romney (10%), and Giuliani (9%) were the leading choices for Republican voters. Likely caucus voters chose the same front runners, but preferred Edwards (35%) over Clinton (29%) and Obama (21%), and Giuliani (21.6%) by a slim margin over McCain (21.1%), followed by Romney (18%).
  • While Iowa Democrats were generally satisfied with their selection of presidential candidates, “many strong Republicans remained unhappy with their options.” While about one-third of Republicans were dissatisfied with their candidates, more than 50% of independents expressed dissatisfaction in the August 2007 survey.

It is worth noting that at that point in the election, Mike Huckabee — a social conservative who was the eventual winner in Iowa — was not yet a factor. Indeed, because Rudy Giuliani and John McCain were perceived to be more moderate or even liberal on social issues, Mitt Romney was a favorite among “values voters” and evangelicals, and he “appeared to be riding social and moral issues like gay marriage and abortion.”

Keywords: elections, presidency, Iowa, New Hampshire

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