Obama's message embraced by young, independents

January 4, 2008 6:35:29 PM PST
The mantra of change that helped lift Barack Obama to his surprisingly robust victory in Iowa's Democratic presidential caucuses was strongly embraced by young people and independents. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee's win was more rooted in tradition and religion.

Obama and his aides said all along their goal was to appeal to people who don't usually vote. That was borne out, and change was stirred into the mix, according to a poll of those entering polling places Thursday conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.

People under age 30, who normally vote in disproportionately low numbers, were a stronger force than usual, comprising more than a fifth of the overall vote. Nearly two-thirds of them said they were looking for change and of that group, an amazingly stout three quarters were Obama supporters, swamping his rivals.

That compares to people age 30 and up, about half of whom said they wanted change. Among those older voters seeking change, more than four in 10 supported Obama - about double his rivals' figures, but still weaker than his pull among the young.

Independents also proved fertile ground for Obama's message of change, though by less dramatic numbers. They comprised a fifth of voters at Iowa's Democratic caucuses.

Among both independents and Democrats, just over half said they were looking for change. Fifty-eight percent of independents seeking change broke for Obama, compared to 22 percent who backed former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and 9 percent favoring New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. For Democrats looking for a candidate who can shake things up, Obama got 50 percent, Clinton 22 percent and Edwards 19 percent.

First-time caucus goers - and Democrats had huge numbers of them Thursday - were also more eager for change than veterans of prior Iowa voting.

Of those who put a premium on change, 57 percent of first-time voters supported Obama, compared to 43 percent of those who had caucused before. Clinton also did better among change-seeking first-timers, but still lost ground to Obama. Edwards did better among caucus veterans.

History shows that relying on young and independent voters, who can be fickle, is not necessarily a winning formula. Nor is being perceived as an agent of change.

In the month before President Bush's 2004 re-election victory over Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Marist College Institute poll showed Kerry overwhelmingly identified as the candidate for change.

In the general election, 95 percent of those saying their candidate would bring change voted for Kerry - who lost.

Among Republicans, several of the candidates have asserted that they can change things in Washington, but that mantle did not seem decisive in Huckabee's easy Iowa victory.

Instead, Huckabee's win seemed anchored by the state's religious and conservative voters - especially born again and evangelical Christians, who gave him 46 percent of their support, swamping the other contenders.

Given four choices of the type of candidate they were seeking, the largest number of those at the GOP caucuses - 45 percent - chose one who "shares my values." Huckabee, the Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, captured 44 percent of their vote, compared to 26 percent for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his nearest rival.

More than a third also said it made a big difference whether they and their candidate have shared religious beliefs. Of them, a mammoth 56 percent opted for Huckabee while only 11 percent tabbed Romney, whose Mormonism has caused some voters to shy away.

In fact, much like Obama's overwhelming victory, Huckabee prevailed over most groups of voters.

Romney did best among voters looking for a likely White House winner, experience, non-evangelicals and less religious voters, moderates, city dwellers and those earning more than $100,000 yearly. He also held his own among men - who were more than half the Iowa GOP voters - but trailed badly among women.

The poll was conducted for the AP and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International as voters arrived at 40 sites each for Democratic and Republican caucuses in Iowa. The Democratic entrance poll interviewed 2,136 caucus-goers, the Republican survey 1,600. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points for each.

AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.