People arrive for caucus at Roosevelt Hight School, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

AP VoteCast: Iowa Dems split on best challenger for Trump

February 03, 2020 - 8:07 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa Democrats are fiercely united by the goal of unseating President Donald Trump, but they were sharply divided Monday over which candidate was best equipped to do so, according to the AP VoteCast survey.

As the first of the nation’s presidential contests, Iowa has played a historic role in gauging which Democrats are the most competitive frontrunners. The results from AP VoteCast show how difficult it can be to join together an increasingly diverse coalition of voters whose common cause rests on their fury with the president.

Fully 88% said electability was very important for the Democratic nominee, compared to the 65% who said having the best policy ideas is highly important.

“Hey, everybody, if you want to beat Trump, come over to (Joe) Biden’s camp,” yelled Jeff Erickson, a retired postal worker, as people filed into Hoover High School in Des Moines.

Yet many of the Democratic presidential candidates have possible weaknesses when challenging Trump. Just over 4 in 10 Iowa voters said it would be harder for a woman to unseat the president. Almost 6 in 10 said a gay candidate would have more difficulty defeating Trump, a potential risk for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Roughly the same share said a nominee with “strongly liberal views” would also face a harder time, while close to half said a nominee older than 75 — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — would have a tougher time versus Trump.

Nearly two-thirds said it was more important for them to vote for a candidate who will fundamentally change how the political system works, compared with one who will restore Washington to the way it was before Trump’s inauguration.

AP VoteCast is a survey of more than 2,800 voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa, conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Close to half of voters under 30 supported Sanders as their top choice. Biden got the backing of almost 3 in 10 voters who were 65 and older.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's support was somewhat stronger among women than men. She and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also saw slightly more support from college graduates, compared with those without a degree. Voters without a college degree were slightly more likely to support Biden and Sanders.

Iowa Democrats who identified themselves as very liberal were somewhat more likely be in Sanders' camp, while the moderates clustered with Biden, Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

There are policy differences among the contenders. Candidates such as Sanders and Warren have embraced bolder changes such as universal health care through the government and a wealth tax. Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar have called for more incremental shifts in policy.

About 4 in 10 ranked health care as the most important issue facing the country, while about 3 in 10 identified climate change as the top. Democratic voters were largely supportive of government programs that would improve access to health insurance coverage as well as taxation of carbon emissions in order to limit climate change.

“Bernie is the candidate who is focusing on the big changes that are going to impact the future, rather than the right now,” said University of Iowa junior Allison Steger, as she waited to caucus for Sanders at the student union in Iowa City.

Iowa Democrats share an abiding distaste for Trump. An overwhelming majority of caucusgoers — about 8 in 10 — were “angry" with the Trump administration. Another 14% said they were “dissatisfied, but not angry.”

Even though the Senate impeachment trial appears certain to close this week with an acquittal for Trump, nearly 8 in 10 Democrats said they judged the impeachment process to be “worth it.” Not surprisingly, nearly every Iowa Democrat said the ability to beat Trump was an important quality for a presidential nominee.

The solid economy, with unemployment at a half-century low, was an afterthought for Iowa Democrats, with just about 1 in 10 saying the economy was the top issue facing the nation. Trump has been rooting his reelection efforts around the economy’s growth, yet few Iowa Democrats seem willing to reward him for an expansion that began under his predecessor.

Democrats in Iowa do not feel they're benefiting much from the growing economy. Roughly two-thirds of Iowa Democrats describe their own financial situations as “holding steady.” Slightly more say they are falling behind than say they are getting ahead.

Nearly 9 in 10 described the economy as very or somewhat unfair, a possible sign that many Democrats are nervous about the growing concentration of wealth and power with the top 1% of U.S. households.

The concerns about medical care, the fate of the planet and inequality are reflected in overwhelming support among Iowa Democrats for a presidential candidate who could transform the U.S. government.

Iowa Democrats under age 45 favored fundamental change by roughly 3 to 1. About two-thirds of those age 45 to 64 also considered fundamental change to be the better approach. But voters over 65 were closely divided in which they preferred.

Significant change could come from how Americans pay for health insurance. Seven in 10 backed a single-payer health care plan, which would shift all Americans to government-based insurance instead of private plans. Almost 9 in 10 support a proposal for people having a public option to receive health care through the government.

On climate change, close to 9 in 10 Iowa Democrats support taxing carbon-based fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas. Nearly half were strongly in favor of the proposal.

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AP reporters Ryan J. Foley and Scott McFetridge contributed to this report from Iowa.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The survey of 2,833 voters in Iowa was conducted for seven days, concluding as the caucuses began. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The survey is based on interviews with a random sample of registered voters drawn from the state voter file. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

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