According to a new Los Angeles Times poll, the race between former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt is close, with Dean narrowly ahead, but within the poll’s four point margin of error. The poll was taken before Iowa Senator Tom Harkin endorsed Howard Dean and also before the showing of Dean’s 2000 television interview deriding the Iowa caucus as “dominated by special interests.” Dean gets the support of 30% of likely Democratic caucus goers, followed by Gephardt at 23%, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry at 18% and North Carolina Senator John Edwards at 11%. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich receives 3% of the vote, while the two non-participants — Clark and Lieberman — receive the support of 4% and 2%, respectively. Former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun and the Reverend Al Sharpton receives less than 1% of the caucus votes and 9% are undecided. Interestingly, Dean benefits from a caucus that allows independents and others to participate. Among voters who consider themselves Democrats, Dean and Gephardt are virtually tied (27%, 25% respectively), but among those who describe themselves as independents, Dean beats Gephardt by 15 points. (About a fifth each of Democrats and independents support Kerry and more than one in ten each of Democrats and independents support Edwards.)
Gender: Male caucus goers are more inclined to vote for Dean (32%) than Gephardt (24%), Kerry (15%) or Edwards (9%). Female caucus goers are somewhat split among the three top-tiered candidates: 28% would vote for Dean, 22% for Gephardt and 20% for Kerry. Thirteen percent would vote for Edwards.
Income and Education: These two demographic groups seem to be playing a pivotal role in this year’s Democratic caucus and primary season. Voters who are more affluent and well-educated are more supportive of Howard Dean. A third of caucus goers whose household income is less than $40,000 support Gephardt, while 23% support Dean, 16% are behind Kerry and 12% back Edwards. On the other hand, a third of caucus voters whose family income is $40,000 or more support Dean, while Kerry is supported by 20% of voters, Gephardt at 17% and Edwards at 12%. Almost two in five caucus voters who have a college degree or more back the former governor from Vermont, while 31% of voters with less than a college diploma back the Missouri congressman. Men with less than a college degree are supporting Gephardt at 36%, while men with college degrees or more are supporting Dean at 40%. The same dynamic holds true for women — women with less than a college degree support Gephardt over Dean by four points and women with a college degree or more support Dean by a whopping 21 points over Gephardt.
Age: The younger voters (18–44) back Howard Dean at 37% over Kerry at 16% and Gephardt at 7%. The voters between the ages of 45 and 64 support Dean at 31% compared to Gephardt at 23% and Kerry at 17%. The elderly voters (65 and over) are more inclined to vote for Gephardt at 32% vs. Dean at 23% and Kerry at 20%.
Political ideology: A third of liberal caucus goers support Dean, while nearly three in 10 moderate voters support Gephardt and roughly three in 10 each of conservative voters support Dean and Gephardt.
Union household/member: Surprisingly, a third of union households say they would vote for Dean on caucus night; 22% would vote for Gephardt and 20% would vote for Kerry. A possible explanation for this result: Howard Dean has a big lead over Dick Gephardt among union members with college degrees (typically white-collar workers like teachers) while Gephardt is only running even with Dean among members who didn’t graduate from college.
Why support a candidate
Certainty of vote: Gephardt’s supporters are somewhat more solidly behind their candidate than supporters of Kerry, Dean and Edwards. More than two thirds of Gephardt’s voters say they are certain they will vote for him on caucus night, while 31% think they may end up voting for someone else. Nearly half of Kerry’s supporters say they may wind up voting for another candidate (51% are certain of their candidate); roughly two out of five each of Dean and Edwards supporters are not quite sure of their candidate (however, 61% of Deans voters are certain they will vote for him, as well as 58% of Edwards voters). In a Times poll conducted in January 2000, 70% of Al Gore voters were certain they were going to vote for him and 62% of Bill Bradley voters were sure of their candidate. (In the Republican caucus, 66% of Bush voters were certain of their vote.)
Support of candidate: Health care was the number one reason why all likely caucus goers were supporting their candidate followed by their candidate saying what he believes (a straight shooter) and his charisma. Roughly a fifth of the caucus goers cited health care and among that group, more of them would vote for Dean (45%) than Gephardt (28%) or Kerry (22%).
Likely caucus voters supported their candidate for different reasons. For example, Dean supporters mentioned health care and his opposition to the war in Iraq and that he is an outsider. Gephardt voters also cited health care, but said he was the best of a bad lot and thought his experience in Washington was a plus. Kerry voters mentioned health care as well, but believed that he has the political and military experience for the job. Edwards’ supporters mentioned his integrity, charisma and that he was a straight shooter.
Second choice: In order for a candidate to be viable in each caucus, a threshold of voters must be met. (Consider individual caucuses to be like a precinct. Caucus goers meet in living rooms, or auditoriums, etc. and form groups for the different candidates.) For example, if four delegates or more need to be elected in a caucus (to go to the county convention), then preference groups must contain at least 15% of caucus goers in order for that candidate to be viable. If not, those voters move to another candidate’s group until all preference groups reach the 15% viability threshhold. There is a lot of negotiating and compromising with people whose candidates just won’t make that “magic 15% threshold”. Therefore, a second choice is important when looking at the Iowa caucus as well as the candidates who have very small shares of the voters (like Clark, Lieberman and Kucinich). The Times Poll asked the caucus goers if they had a second choice and most of them did – it was a virtual dead heat among the top four candidates. Twenty-two percent of the likely caucus goers said Edwards would be their second choice, while 21% mentioned Kerry, 20% cited Dean and 18% mentioned Gephardt. Eight percent were undecided.
• Among Dean supporters – 27% say that Edwards is their second choice, followed by Kerry (25%) and Gephardt (19%).
• Among Gephardt supporters – 38% would support Kerry, followed by 31% for Dean and 24% for Edwards.
• Among Kerry supporters – 32% would vote for Dean, 27% for Gephardt and 25% for Edwards
• Among Edwards supporters – 30% for Gephardt, 26% for Kerry and 22% for Dean.
Although the share of voters for the other candidates is very small, the direction of the vote shows that Clark’s voters would choose Dean as their second choice, while more of Kucinich’s supporters would vote for Edwards and Lieberman’s voters opting for Gephardt as their second choice.
Attributes: The poll gave eight phrases that could describe any of the presidential hopefuls and asked the caucus goers which one of them applies to their candidate. Among all caucus goers, 20% mentioned their candidate “cares about people like me,” followed by 18% who cited “stands up for his or her convictions,” 16% cited “has honesty and integrity,” and 12% mentioned “has strong qualities of leadership.” Interestingly, only 9% of all caucus goers thought the phrase “my candidate can win in November” was an attribute that best described their candidate. Also, the number one issue that the caucus goers would like to hear discussed by the candidates is healthcare. A third of all caucus goers mentioned healthcare, followed by the Iraqi war and its aftermath (21%), economy (19%) and jobs (14%).