Iowa Spin and Exit Polls (posted January 25, 2000)

The Iowa caucus results are in and Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George Bush scored significant victories. On the Democratic side, Gore beat former Senator Bill Bradley by 63 to 35 percent, a very convincing victory. Among Republicans, Bush garnered the support of 41 percent of voters, followed by 30 percent for Steve Forbes, 14 percent for Alan Keyes, 9 percent for Gary Bauer, 5 percent for John McCain, and 1 percent for Orrin Hatch.

But beneath the surface of these vote totals lies some interesting results. On the GOP side, Bush's victory was less convincing than had been anticipated. His relatively weak showing and the surprisingly strong showings by Forbes and Keyes demonstrate that much of the last-minute vote swung away from Bush, especially among conservatives. In the weeks before the Iowa vote, Bush was battered by attack ads from his opponents saying he was not conservative enough and was soft on the pro-life side of the abortion issue.

The results are a good news/bad news scenario for Bush. The good news is that voters have yet to coalesce around a single opponent. By having a divided field of McCain, Forbes, and Keyes, Bush should be able to crank out strong finishes in many primary states. But the bad news is that several opponents, notably McCain, Forbes and Keyes, now have the credibility to last longer in the campaign. This all but guarantees a long and drawn-out Republican nominating process for Bush. The risk for the Texas governor is that opponents will have forums to criticize him for several weeks and that negative impressions raised during this period will stick to him. This scenario also pressures Bush to move to the right in order to co-opt the votes of social conservatives, an action which would complicate his general election campaign of compassionate conservatism.

On the Democratic side, Gore's very strong showing puts great pressure on Bradley to highlight differences between the two candidates. Look for Bradley to become more ferocious in explaining why Gore does not deserve the nomination. The stakes in New Hamphire are very high for Bradley. Unless he has a very strong showing, his campaign will be finished for all practical purposes.

An examination of Voter News Service entrance polls from Iowa reveals that Bush ran stronger among Republicans than Independents, did better with moderate than very conservative voters, earned his strongest support from those who felt he was a strong and decisive leader and had the best chance of winning in November. The best group of voters who supported Forbes over Bush thought that abortion was the issue that mattered the most.

On the Democratic side, Gore did better among Democrats than Independents, among those who believed he had the right experience, and who thought Clinton was doing a good job as president. People who supported Bradley felt he had new ideas and disapproved of Clinton's job and character.