Poll Analysis: Dean and Gephardt Battle to the Finish Line

There is just over a week to go until the first vote for a Democratic presidential nominee is cast in the Iowa caucus on January 19th. Out of the nine candidates hoping to become the Democratic nominee and run against the Republican incumbent George W. Bush, seven of them are actively campaigning in this midwestern state. (Retired General Wesley Clark and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman have decided not to campaign in Iowa and to concentrate their efforts in the first primary of the presidential season — New Hampshire). The Iowa Democratic party is predicting a much bigger turnout for this caucus than the one in 2000. In 2000, only 61,000 Democratic caucus goers participated, but the prediction is about double that for the upcoming caucus. If the weather is very bad (snowstorm, freezing rain) that could shrink the attendance. Independents and members of other parties who register at Democrats on caucus night are allowed to attend the Democratic caucus. The candidate who brings out the greatest number of supporters will win. The poll shows that Dean does better among independents, while Democrats are virtually splitting their vote between Gephardt and Dean. If Gephardt’s organization can galvanize more Democrats than independents, his share of the votes could swell. Conversely, if Dean’s campaign can energize independents to come out the night of the caucus, his chances of winning are greater.

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.)

Some demographics of Democratic horserace

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%).

Howard Dean voters believe the top attributes that describe their candidate are his strong convictions — they believe he stands up for what he believes in — and that he cares about people like themselves. Gephardt voters think the phrases he is caring and has experience for the job aptly describe their candidate, while Kerry voters think the phrases that he is caring and has strong convictions personify their candidate. Edwards supporters believe he is caring and has honesty and integrity.

One might think that beating Bush would be the most important goal in deciding on a candidate. But these caucus goers are divided over that issue and whether a candidate agrees with them on most of the issues they care about. Among the caucus goers who want to beat President Bush, Dean is the preferred candidate. And caucus goers are also split over whether they prefer a Democratic candidate with a lot of experience in Washington (34%) or someone whose experience is primarily outside of the Beltway (39%). Almost three in 10 voters are unsure whether they want an insider or an outsider. Not surprisingly, among the caucus goers who want an insider, Gephardt is their candidate, while those wanting an outsider support Dean.

Bush and economy

More than three-fifths of Democratic caucus goers agree with the statement that the Democratic leaders in Washington have failed to stand up to President Bush (including 40% who strongly agree). Those who agree with this statement are leaning more toward supporting Dean than any of the other candidates. More than four out of five caucus goers disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job as president and more than seven out of 10 think the president has at least some vulnerability in his bid for a second term. Four out of five voters also think that the country is seriously off on the wrong track and two thirds think the economy is doing badly.

Who has a clearer vision to lead the country? About three in 10 caucus voters believe Dean has that vision, followed by Kerry (20%) and Gephardt (19%). More than two thirds of Dean supporters think he has the vision, while 58% of Edwards supporters, 69% of Gephardt supporters and 81% of Kerry supporters feel that way about their respective candidate.

But these Democratic caucus goers are not entirely optimistic about a November win. A third of these voters believe not one of the Democratic candidates can beat Bush in November – 17% said none of the nine candidates and another 17% are not sure. Still, among all caucus voters, 27% think Dean is the answer to the Democratic prayers. Sixty-three percent of Dean supporters, however, are more hopeful and believe he can win against the incumbent than supporters of the other top tiered candidates.

Issues on the campaign trail

Tax cuts: Half of Democratic caucus goers would prefer a nominee that would only repeal provisions of the tax cut affecting wealthy families, 40% would prefer a candidate that would repeal all of the Bush tax cuts, including provisions to cut middle-class taxes. Dean has been in favor of repealing all tax cuts, but is now contemplating whether to also devise tax relief for the middle class. But among Dean supporters, 55% agree with his philosophy of repealing all tax cuts which includes cuts for middle income families, while the other top three candidates’ supporters prefer repealing the tax cut just for wealthy families.

Trade: More than half of caucus voters prefer a candidate who believes that trade agreements like NAFTA between Mexico and Canada will hurt the U.S. economy and take jobs away from the American people, while 27% want a candidate who thinks trade agreements like NAFTA generate more jobs. Among those voters who prefer a candidate who thinks trade agreements like the one mentioned will take jobs and hurt the economy are supporting Dean (30%) and Gephardt (28%), while those who prefer a candidate who thinks these agreements generate jobs are backing Kerry (28%).

Annual testing in 3rd–8th grades: The Bush administration’s “Leave No Child Behind” Act is a controversial one among Democrats. The testing is stringent and most schools are teaching to the test. The Bush administration has not given any additional money to the schools to help them provide remedial help to the students. Democratic caucus goers are divided as to whether they prefer a candidate who supports the annual testing of students (47%) or prefers a candidate who wants to repeal the requirement for annual testing (45%). If the caucus voters support annual testing of students, they back Gephardt (27%), while those who want to repeal the annual tests are backing Dean (37%).

Health care: Democratic caucus goers are also divided about which candidate they prefer on the issue of expanding health care. A quarter of voters prefer a Democratic nominee who wants to expand access to health care by creating a single payer system run by the government, 30% prefer a nominee who wants to provide tax credits to help employers offer coverage to their workers, and 31% prefer a nominee who wants to expand government programs that would provide coverage to the uninsured. Fourteen percent are undecided about which plan they prefer. A third of voters who prefer a candidate who wants single payer health care support Dean, while voters who prefer a candidate that provides tax credits to help employers also support Dean; and voters who prefer a candidate who covers the uninsured are split in their support of Dean, Gephardt and Kerry.

Civil Unions: Almost two out of three caucus goers support civil unions between same-sex couples.

Gore Endorsement: former Vice President Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean made no difference in the caucus goers vote. According to four out of five voters, his endorsement made no difference, 14% said it made them more likely to vote for Dean and 7% said it would make them less likely to vote for Dean. Even 72% of Dean voters said it didn’t make a difference to them.


More than three-fifths of caucus goers said that they preferred a Democratic nominee who opposed the war in Iraq, while about a quarter preferred a candidate who favored the war. Then it isn’t surprising that 38% of voters who preferred a candidate who opposed the war supported Dean. Among those who wanted a candidate who favored the war, 27% supported Gephardt. Three quarters of caucus goers also believe that they can back a candidate who held a different position than theirs on the war but agreed with them on most other issues. And seven in 10 voters don’t think the war in Iraq was worth it. These caucus voters feel no differently than Democrats across the nation according to a November Times poll, but are more negative in their assessment of the war than the nation overall. Forty-eight percent of Americans think it was worth going to war in Iraq, while 43% think the opposite.

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.