Iowa Democrats are fiercely united by the goal of unseating U.S. 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 host of the first of the nation’s presidential contests, Iowa has played a historic role in defining the field of Democratic frontrunners. But the results from AP VoteCast show how difficult it can be for any single contender to unite an increasingly diverse coalition of voters whose common cause rests mostly on their fury with the Republican president.
Fully 88 per cent said electability was very important for the Democratic nominee, compared with the 66 per cent who said having the best policy ideas is highly important. But not everyone at the start of the caucuses agreed on who was most electable. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was backed by voters under 30, while former Vice-President Joe Biden‘s base was largely older and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was drawing more support from women than men.
“Hey, everybody, if you want to beat Trump, come over to Biden’s camp,” yelled Jeff Erickson, a retired postal worker, as voters 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, Indiana, 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 — Biden and Sanders — would have a tougher time versus Trump.
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.
As voters gathered, there was a tension between those seeking to transform the U.S. government and those who believe a less disruptive candidate would fare better against 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.
Biden has based much of his campaign on his decades-long service in the Senate and his partnership with Barack Obama in the White House, representing himself as a return to a more civil and bipartisan era. This contrasts sharply with Sanders and Warren, who are seeking to break with a past they see as perpetuating a lack of opportunity for many Americans.
Candidates have sought to distinguish themselves based on policies that could reshape the role of government in U.S. society. 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.
“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.
Democratic voters were also divided based on age, education and sex.