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Six Takeaways from the 2024 Iowa Caucuses

The 2024 presidential nominating contests officially kicked off this week with Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Close to 110,000 Iowans gathered in school gyms and auditoriums, community centers, and libraries to hear speeches from each candidates’ supporters and then cast their ballots. Former President Trump secured a decisive victory, winning 98 of 99 counties.

In addition to the final tally, there are a number of takeaways that we’ll be watching as the presidential campaign moves through the primary process and into the general election:

#1:  Older voters SHOW UP and decide elections.

Despite record-breaking cold and treacherous driving conditions, older Iowans turned out in big numbers on caucus night. According to the CNN entrance polls, fully 7 in 10 caucus goers were age 50+, up from a little over 6 in 10 in 2016 – the last election without an incumbent Republican candidate. And, the majority of these older caucus goers cast their ballots for former President Trump, with 55% of 50-64 year olds and 58% of those 65+ supporting the former president.

#2: There is a big education divide.

We saw a significant difference in the candidate preferences of caucus goers with and without college degrees. While former President Trump carried two-thirds (67%) of non-college educated caucus-goers, he was favored by 37% of college graduates, more than half of whom split their votes between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (26%) and former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (28%).

#3: Voters want to see bipartisan cooperation.

According to Fox News voter analysis, nearly 9 in 10 Iowans say it is important that the Republican nominee for president is willing to work across party lines. This includes 52% of voters that consider this “very important.”

#4: Immigration is a national focus for Republican voters.

Immigration was a top concern for caucus-goers even though Iowa is over 1,000 miles away from the Southern border. According to AP Votecast, 41% say immigration is the most important issue facing the country, edging out the economy and jobs by 8 points (33%).

#5: Trump’s on-the-ground organizing made a real difference in 2024.

Winning the Iowa caucuses requires building a campaign organization that can attract and leverage volunteers across the state’s 1,670 precincts. This cycle, the Trump campaign put much more emphasis on this kind of organizing than it did in 2016 and that investment paid off.

#6:  Candidates should address important issues to garner support. 

Despite candidates spending a record $120 million on political ads in Iowa, the dynamics of the race held fairly steady over the last six months when a Des Moines Register poll showed President Trump at 43% and Haley and DeSantis tied at 16%. Most of the advertising bombarding potential caucus goers were negative attack ads. Those clearly didn’t move the needle. Perhaps a different approach – one focused on pocketbook issues like Social Security, the cost of prescription drugs or helping seniors live independently in their homes– would have. AARP research shows that these are important issues to 50+ voters and can boost a candidate’s chances in close races.

So, what should we take away from all of this? Political candidates of all stripes need to pay attention to the needs and concerns of voters age 50+ if they want to win. They will make up the majority of the electorate, and they will decide elections.

Over the past year, AARP members and staff engaged with the presidential candidates in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to make sure they addressed the issues that we know are on the minds of older voters – specifically protecting Social Security and helping family caregivers. As a result, the three remaining presidential candidates shared with AARP their solutions.

Similarly, throughout the general election this year, we will be engaging candidates for office, whether they’re running for President, the Senate, or the House, on their solutions to help family caregivers and protect Social Security. And, we will share information about candidate positions with our members and broader constituency, so they can make voting decisions that best fit with their views and values.

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