Iowa caucus takeaways: Voters send message, but count a mess

Politics
Joe Biden

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with Jill Biden at a caucus night campaign rally on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa Democrats tried out some new rules for reporting the results of its caucuses that start the presidential nominating press. It did not go well, and as a result, the impact is somewhat muted. Still, voters gave strong opinions on issues and the kind of candidate they want to challenge President Donald Trump. Here are some key takeaways.

DOESN’T ANYBODY HERE KNOW HOW TO PLAY THIS GAME?

The Iowa caucuses are hard enough for people to understand, with second choices, realignments and claims of viability. Most people expect that in an election, ballots are cast, votes are counted and winners are declared.

Iowa started out with that good intention, even with new rules that required Democrats to issue three sets of numbers. Then the numbers didn’t come. There were problems with a new app. The Iowa Democratic Party said it had found “inconsistencies” in the count. Confidence was not inspired. And candidates had justifiable reasons to discount the results.

In the process, Iowa undermined its authority with Democratic voters. For almost 50 years, Iowa has taken pride in going first. Will this be the last time the state can say that?

A PARTY DIVIDED

The caucus voters clearly indicated that Iowa did not resolve the ideological war within the Democratic Party.

In fact, AP VoteCast shows voters indicated both a powerful desire to beat President Donald Trump, which would suggest a premium on electability — a kind of code for a more moderate candidate — and a strong preference for fundamental change, which would favor progressive calls for policies like Medicare for All.

But caucusgoers also wanted bipartisanship — about 6 in 10 said they wanted a nominee who’d work across party lines, which is very much not what the liberal candidates have pledged. The contradiction helps explain why the results were so mixed.

Voters for months have been saying they didn’t know who was the best pick to take on Trump, and they showed their indecisiveness on caucus night. On the left, the rivalry persists between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In a pitch to more moderate voters, former vice president Joe Biden couldn’t shake former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

And there’s that candidate with basically an unlimited budget waiting for those who survive until Super Tuesday: former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

MEDICARE FOR ALL IS POPULAR

Health care was the top issue for voters, and a majority of voters were in favor of a single-payer system. Seven in 10 caucus-goers supported the plan.

The biggest fight of the primary has been over Sanders’ Medicare for All system, which would transform one-eighth of the nation’s economy into a single-payer, government-run system.

Still, support for single-payer was not nearly as many as the 9 in 10 who backed a program where people can buy into a government-run health insurance plan — the proposal of most other candidates in the race.

Sanders’ voters are motivated by his push to provide universal health care and forgive student debt.

At the start of the caucuses, nearly 8 in 10 of Sanders’ backers strongly favored putting all Americans onto government insurance. Only one other candidate enjoyed nearly as much backing on the issue, with just over half of Warren voters saying they, too, strongly favored government insurance for everyone.

Almost two-thirds of Sanders supporters also strongly favor the cancellation of student debt, an issue that naturally dovetails with the disproportionate support he received from voters younger than 30.

BERNIE IS NOT A UNIFIER, SO FAR

Majorities of Iowa voters say they would be satisfied with any of the top candidates — Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren or Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — and that’s true even among most of those candidates’ supporters.

But Sanders supporters were especially negative about other candidates: Just about 3 in 10 said they would be satisfied if Biden were the nominee. About 4 in 10 said they would be satisfied with Klobuchar, and about half said the same of Buttigieg.

Supporters of Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar were not nearly as negative as Sanders’ supporters, but less than thrilled about a Sanders nomination. Just about 4 in 10 Buttigieg and Klobuchar supporters said they would be satisfied with Sanders as the nominee; about half of Biden’s supporters said the same.

Warren stands out, with majorities of voters supporting other top candidates saying they would be satisfied with her as the nominee.

WOMEN VOTED FOR WOMEN

Democratic voters — especially women — have often fretted whether a woman could win the 2020 election after Hillary Clinton lost her bid to become the country’s first female president.

Some female caucusgoers seem willing to take the risk.

Roughly two-thirds of both Warren’s supporters and Klobuchar’s supporters were women, according to AP VoteCast.

But about half of women in Iowa said it would be harder for a female nominee to defeat Trump in November, compared with just about a third of men who said the same.

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Riccardi reported from Denver.

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