The Corner

A Deep Dive into the Iowa Caucus Results: What Have We Really Learned?

Now that the initial post-Iowa furor has died down, I’ve had a chance to take a deeper dive into the exit polls and overall voting results. A few things stand out.

Cruz was incredibly consistent across the state, showcasing his outstanding organization. He won 59 of Iowa’s 99 counties and finished in the top two in 93 of them. He was a competitive third in all six of the counties in which he didn’t place in the top two. He didn’t completely dominate in any part of the state, but there was not a single one of Iowa’s 99 counties where he wasn’t competitive. Cruz won with 28 percent overall and took at least 19 percent in every county in Iowa – a remarkable display of consistency. If Cruz can muster a similarly broad-based appeal going forward, he will be formidable.

Trump, by contrast, placed third or worse in 14 counties, including two distant fourth-place finishes where he took less than one-third the vote of the winner.

Rubio’s vote was even more unbalanced, despite finishing close to Trump in overall votes. He was fourth or worse in eleven counties, in several cases winning less than one fourth the vote of the winner — and won just five counties overall. He placed second in only 16 counties, and lost to both Cruz and Trump in 78 of 99 counties. His support was concentrated in Iowa’s most populous counties, especially the three primary counties of Metro Des Moines, all of which he won. Rubio won Iowa’s cities overall, while Cruz carried the suburbs. Trump showed surprising strength in rural areas despite his “New York values,” coming in a close second to Cruz.

Looking at exit polls, one sees that Cruz actually narrowly won every age group in Iowa, which is remarkable given the closeness of the race. Rubio and Paul performed notably well with younger voters while Trump did well with older voters.

Rubio lagged in support among those with a high-school diploma or only some college, which is of concern since, as I have noted previouslyelection-modeling shows that the most likely route to GOP victory goes through these blue collar “Reagan Democrats.” Trump won the “high-school diploma or less” category but Cruz was surprisingly competitive in this demographic as well. Combined with his comfortable margin in the “some college” category, it was actually Cruz, and not Trump who won the GOP’s “Reagan Democrat” vote.  Rubio was strong among those with post-graduate degrees, winning that category fairly handily, but took just 17 percent among non-college graduates.

New caucus-goers unsurprisingly went for Trump, but his margins over Rubio and Cruz were quite modest. More than anything else, that may indicate why Trump lost Iowa. He brought in a lot of new voters, but so did his competition.

Among the 20 percent of the caucus-goers who identified as “Independent or something else,” Trump, Rubio, and Cruz were tightly bunched, but all conceded some of their votes to also-rans, including Paul and Carson. For those who believe a path to victory lies in reaching out to independents rather than motivating base voters, it was hard to point to a single winner or loser in Iowa.  

Cruz was absolutely dominant among “very conservative” voters, taking more than double Trump’s total and almost three times Rubio’s. But Rubio beat him comfortably in the “somewhat conservative” category. Among self-described moderates, Trump took 34 percent while Cruz took just 9 percent. On the one hand, this shows that attacking Trump for his insufficient conservatism won’t work with many of his voters because they themselves are not conservative. On the other hand, it shows Cruz has a lot of work to do if he wants to consolidate less-conservative Republicans who will play a larger role outside of Iowa, while Rubio has a lot to do to win the enthusiasm of the party’s most conservative base voters.

Cruz ran very strongly among Evangelical voters, winning 33 percent, but that was not nearly as strong as his 44 percent among “very conservative” voters. When looking at the likely overlaps between those categories, it seems likely that ideology was more important than religion in determining Cruz support. “Very conservative” Evangelicals likely broke heavily for Cruz, while more moderate Evangelicals gave their votes to Trump and Rubio.

Given that immigration is Trump’s signature issue, Cruz ran a surprisingly competitive second to him among voters choosing immigration as the most important issue. Trump led Cruz just 44 percent to 34 percent among these voters, while Rubio trailed badly with 10 percent, indicating that his past support for amnesty remains a major problem for him.

For voters focused on the economy/jobs, Rubio and Trump led the pack, while for those most concerned about terrorism, Cruz was the winner. Somewhat surprisingly, almost one third of caucus voters listed limiting government spending as their top priority, and among those voters, Cruz won as well. The inability of Paul, who made this arguably his signature issue, to get much traction here, explains a lot about why he dropped out today.

Finally, for those voters who said they were looking for the most electable candidate, Rubio crushed the competition, winning 44 percent. But the largest number of voters wanted a candidate who “shares my values,” and Cruz owned this category over Rubio 38 percent to 21 percent. Trump finished in a distant fifth among these voters at just 5 percent. So maybe “New York Values” hurt Trump after all. At the very least, his supporters knew what they were getting.

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