Older Voters Have Strong but Very Different Effects on the Iowa Caucus Outcomes

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Ballot tallies are announced in the Brody Middle School cafeteria in Des Moines.

Older voters predictably turned out in large numbers for the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1 and affected the race results for the two parties in strikingly different ways.

In the virtual 50-50 overall tie on the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential campaign’s first contest, Hillary Clinton won 69 percent of voters 65 and older and 58 percent of voters ages 45 to 64, according to entrance polls, while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont won 84 percent of voters younger than 30 and 58 percent of voters 30 to 44.

A key factor in Clinton’s favor is that the voters 45 and older were 64 percent of all Democrats participating in the Iowa caucuses. Clinton’s voters also placed a greater emphasis on a candidate who “has the right experience” and “can win in November.” Of those who told the pollsters that those qualities were what mattered most to them, more than 75 percent said that they planned to vote for Clinton.

In the Republican race, older voters, who made up 73 percent of the turnout, followed the overall results more closely. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won with 28 percent of the vote, taking 27 percent of the 45-to-64 vote and 26 percent from those 65 and older, according to entrance polls.

Donald Trump came in second with 24 percent (26 percent in the 45-to-64 group and 27 percent of the oldest voters), and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida finished a percentage point behind Trump overall (23 percent in the 45-to-64 group and 21 percent of the oldest voters). Ben Carson finished fourth with 9 percent of the Republican vote.

“The entrance polls suggest that although we’re seeing tight races on both sides, only the Democrats are showing demographic rifts,” said Jennifer Agiesta, CNN polling director. “Democratic caucus-goers are divided sharply by age, gender and income.” On the Republican side, ideology and religious affiliation were more important factors in supporting presidential candidates, according to Agiesta.

In contrast to the conventional election exit polls that are taken after voters emerge from the voting booths, the National Election Pool questioned caucus voters on whom they planned to support before they entered the polling places for what often was more than an hour of speech-making and organizing by supporters of the various candidates.

New Hampshire will have the next campaign contest Feb. 9.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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