Howard Dean has established a narrow advantage in the Iowa caucuses by amassing a solid lead among upscale voters while cutting into Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt’s support among blue-collar and union families, a new Times Poll found.
Barely a week before the Jan. 19 voting, Dean led Gephardt 30% to 23%, a difference just within the poll’s margin of error. Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, with 18%, remained within reach of Gephardt, while North Carolina Sen. John Edwards attracted 11%.
The survey showed likely caucus voters were fluid in their commitments to the candidates, even after months of intensive campaigning.
About 1 in 11 said they remain undecided in the race. More significant, nearly 40% who express a preference say they could still switch before the caucuses.
“The more we listen, the more it changes our minds,” said Mary Watkins, a retired postmaster in Woodbine who says she and her husband are leaning toward Kerry but could change. “We’ve never really been so undecided as we are this year.”
Such wavering points to a tense, volatile race that could turn on the candidates’ get-out-the-vote organizations.
Among the other candidates, the poll found retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who is not competing in Iowa, backed by 4%; Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich by 3%; Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, also skipping the caucuses to focus on New Hampshire, by 2%. The Rev. Al Sharpton and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun each drew less than 1%.
The Los Angeles Times Poll, supervised by polling director Susan Pinkus, contacted 3,629 adults in Iowa, including 640 likely Democratic caucus voters, by telephone Jan. 5 through Jan. 8. The margin of sampling error for the likely caucus voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points; for some subgroups, the error margin is higher.
The poll was completed before the latest controversy surrounding Dean, the release of a 2000 television interview in which he derided the caucuses as “dominated by special interests.” It also was conducted before Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa’s most influential Democrat, endorsed Dean on Friday.
As they jostle toward the finish line, Dean and Gephardt have assembled almost mirror-image coalitions. Indeed, in Iowa the two are summoning into combat different generations of the Democratic Party, both literally and figuratively.
Gephardt is dependent on older, lower-income, moderate and non-college-educated voters: a modern version of the New Deal coalition that defined the Democratic Party from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Dean runs best among the younger, better-educated, more affluent, socially liberal voters who have become increasingly important to Democratic fortunes since the early 1970s.
This pattern gives Dean a big advantage in New Hampshire and other states on both coasts where upscale voters cast the most ballots in Democratic primaries. But it could help other candidates compete with Dean in Southern and Midwestern states where most Democratic voters lack college educations.
In Iowa, the survey found about 4 in 10 likely caucus-goers had college degrees. But Dean leads the poll because he is making deeper inroads into Gephardt’s demographic strongholds than Gephardt is into his -- a trend that could shape other contests.
The Great Divide
Education marks the sharpest divide. Dean is dominating among voters with college degrees, most of whom have liberal views on social and foreign policy issues. They prefer Dean over Gephardt, 38% to 11%.
These voters include Eldon Rocca, a Des Moines architect who responded to the poll. Rocca is impressed not only with Dean’s positions, but his campaign’s vigor and his forceful style.
Rocca said he believes “Dean has got what it takes to beat George Bush. He seems very organized; he’s really going about this with a vengeance.... And he seems to have a leadership persona more than the other candidates.”
By contrast, voters without a college degree prefer Gephardt over Dean -- but only 31% to 25%.
Gephardt’s core supporters are voters such as Gary Lancial, who delivers merchandise for a rental company in Oskaloosa and belongs to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Asked why he supports Gephardt, Lancial answered with a single word: “Union.”
He added: “I feel of all the candidates that are there, he would be the one that could put things back on track.”
Still, among the roughly one-third of likely voters in households with a labor union member, the poll found Dean leads Gephardt, 34% to 22%. The reason: Dean has a big lead among union members with college degrees (typically white-collar workers, such as teachers), while Gephardt runs only even with Dean among union members without higher education.
Age Is a Factor
Gephardt leads Dean by 9 percentage points among voters 65 or older. But Dean swamps Gephardt by 30 points among those between 18 and 44. (Middle-aged voters between 45 and 65 give Dean an 8-point edge.)
Voters earning less than $40,000 a year prefer Gephardt by 10 points; voters earning more prefer Dean by 16.
Another split reinforces these patterns. The Iowa Democratic Party allows independents to participate in the caucus if they re-register as Democrats at the door. (They can change their registration back the next day by filing another form.)
The poll found that nearly 30% of the likely caucus voters call themselves independents -- and Dean leads Gephardt among that group, 35% to 20%. Among those identifying themselves as Democrats, the results are a virtual dead heat, with Dean drawing 27% to Gephardt’s 25%.
Kerry and Edwards have generated support more evenly across the electorate. Kerry, for instance, wins 18% of voters without a college degree, and 17% of voters with one; his backing is similar across lines of partisanship, income, age and ideology.
Edwards’ support shows similar consistency; for example, he is backed by 12% of voters earning less than $40,000 annually and 12% making more.
Kerry’s backers, when asked why they support him, most often cite his health-care policy and his experience. “I like ... his military background, and I think he comes across a little better, as someone who could lead this country,” said Jim Asklof, who works for an industrial supplier in Des Moines.
Edwards’ supporters most often named charisma and integrity as their reasons for backing him. And the interviews with poll respondents suggested he is getting a second look from some voters.
Jack Glenn, a school maintenance supervisor who lives in Redfield, expressed support for Gephardt when polled. But when interviewed, Glenn said he is being tugged toward Edwards. “Boy, if I was going to the caucus tonight, I would probably lean on Edwards, because I think I want a new face not dug into the establishment so much,” he said.
Dean’s voters cite his health-care policy and opposition to the war with Iraq as the main reasons for their support. “I was against the war in Iraq, and he was the only Democratic candidate who was against the war the whole way through,” said Jill Terrill, a stay-at-home mother in Iowa City.
But many Dean voters appear attracted to him less by any single issue than the sense that he is a strong leader with firm beliefs.
Gephardt’s supporters mention his health-care plan and his experience as principal reasons for backing him.
Sally Jo Baldwin, who owns an ice cream store in Barnum, likes Gephardt largely because he seems stable and seasoned, while Dean strikes her as neither.
“Dean really shoots off at the mouth too much for my taste; not that I’m a conservative, but he scares me,” she said. “I prefer somebody who is more middle of the road and looks more like a president.”
Voters such as Baldwin constitute a larger share of the Iowa electorate than is commonly recognized: fully half of likely voters call themselves moderates or conservatives.
Gephardt’s problem, following the mold on other fronts, is that his advantage with these centrists isn’t as great as Dean’s lead among liberals.
While Dean leads Gephardt by 16 percentage points among voters who consider themselves liberal, Gephardt leads Dean by just 3 points among the rest.
Other divisions often important in a general election cut less sharply in the Iowa race. Dean, for instance, leads Gephardt by 8 percentage points among men and 6 among women, a statistically insignificant difference.
The poll, conducted by The Times, also was sponsored by the Chicago Tribune.
On issues, by 62% to 26%, the likely caucuses voters say they would prefer a nominee who opposed the war in Iraq to one who supported it. But three-fourths say they are willing to back a candidate whose position on the war they oppose.
Nearly two-thirds said they want a nominee who supports civil unions for homosexuals (as all the leading Democratic contenders do), and a majority say they want a nominee who emphasizes increased spending on education and health care rather than reducing the federal budget deficit.
The best news for those chasing Dean is that many voters are open to reassessing the candidates.
Just 9% said they were undecided. But 39% of Dean’s supporters, 42% for Edwards and 49% for Kerry say they still could change their minds. Gephardt’s support seems more solid; just 31% said they could switch. When asked to name their second choice, voters split almost evenly among the top four contenders.
Watkins, the retired postmaster, epitomizes the divided loyalties. She still is sorting through the leading contenders as if they were clothes on the rack.
“I’d like to see Kerry in there, but we’re wondering if he’s going to make it to the nomination; you’ve got to think that out too,” she said. “I think Gephardt understands our part of the country better. But I sort of think Dean has a better chance of beating Bush. Sen. Edwards, I think, is very good, and my husband does too. But we feel like he isn’t well-known enough.”
In classic Midwestern understatement, she added: “It’s kind of hard to decide.”
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Likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers were asked their preference for the party’s presidential nominee.
*--* 1st choice Howard Dean 30% Dick Gephardt 23% John F. Kerry 18% John Edwards 11% Wesley K. Clark 4% Dennis J. Kucinich 3% Joe Lieberman 2% Carol Moseley Braun - Al Sharpton - Someone else - Don’t know 9%
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Iowa’s Democratic caucuses
Q: Iowans likely to attend a Democratic caucus Jan. 19 were asked which of the following candidates they would prefer for their party’s presidential nomination. Those who named a candidate were also asked their second choice.
*--* 1st choice 2nd choice Howard Dean 30% 20% Dick Gephardt 23% 18% John F. Kerry 18% 21% John Edwards 11% 22% Wesley K. Clark 4% 3% Dennis J. Kucinich 3% 2% Joe Lieberman 2% 2% Carol Moseley Braun -% 3% Al Sharpton - - Someone else (volunteered) -% 1% Don’t know 9% 8%
Q: Why are you supporting that candidate? (No more than two replies were accepted. Shown below are the top three responses given by the supporters of each of the four leading candidates.)
*--* Dean voters Health care 26% Opposed war in Iraq 20% Charisma 9% Gephardt voters Health care 21% Best of the lot 15% Experience 14% Kerry voters Health care 21% Military background 15% Experience 15% Edwards voters+ Charisma 23% Integrity 22% Says what he believes 15%
+The sample includes only 81 Edwards voters.
Q: What issue or problem would you particularly like to hear discussed by the candidates running for president this year? (No more than two replies accepted. Top six responses shown.)
Health care: 35%
Q: Agree or disagree? ‘Democratic leaders in Washington have failed to stand up aggressively enough to President Bush.’
Agree strongly: 40%
Agree somewhat: 22%
Disagree somewhat: 20%
Disagree strongly: 11%
Don’t know: 7%
Q: In choosing your candidate for president, which is more important: Who has the best chance of beating George W. Bush in November or who agrees with you on most issues you care about?
Agrees with me: 49%
Beating Bush: 46%
Don’t know: 5%
Q: How vulnerable do you think Bush is in his bid for a second term?
Somewhat vulnerable: 50%
Very vulnerable: 22%
Not vulnerable: 25%
Don’t know: 3%
Q: Do you think any of the Democratic candidates running for president can win against Bush? If so, which one?
Moseley Braun: -
All equally: 6%
Don’t know: 17%
Q: Some Democratic candidates for president opposed the war with Iraq because they did not believe Iraq posed an imminent threat to the U.S. Others supported the war because they felt that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that he had been stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Would you prefer a Democratic nominee who favored or opposed the war?
Favored war: 26%
Opposed war: 62%
Don’t know: 12%
Notes: Results are shown for all likely Democratic caucus-goers unless otherwise indicated. Numbers may not total 100% where more than one response was accepted or some answer categories are not shown. '--' indicates less than 0.5%.
Times Poll results are also available at www.latimes.com/timespoll.
How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times Poll contacted 3,629 adults in Iowa, including 640 likely Democratic caucus-goers, by telephone Jan. 5-8. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in Iowa. Random digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers were contacted. The entire sample of adults was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education in the state. The margin of sampling error for likely Democratic caucus-goers is plus or minus 4 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.