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University of Iowa News Release

 

April 9, 2007

To view a PDF with the poll data only, click here.

UI Poll: Race Not Key In Candidate Choice; Gender Matters To Some

Iowa's registered voters do not consider race and gender key factors in their presidential choice, but candidate gender matters more to men and Republicans than it does to women and Democrats, according a poll conducted by political scientists at the University of Iowa.

The poll also looked at candidates' potential weaknesses. While most likely Democratic caucus goers said a candidate's race or gender would not influence their vote, they perceived race and gender as possible obstacles for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Likely Republican caucus goers viewed John McCain's moderateness and Rudy Giuliani's pro-choice stance as greater obstacles than Mitt Romney's Mormonism.

These conclusions were drawn from results of a statewide, random poll of 1,290 registered voters. The poll's margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points for the full sample. Results are weighted for gender to match the gender breakdown of statewide registered voters (52.8 percent female, 47.2 percent male).

The poll was conducted March 19-31 by David Redlawsk and Caroline Tolbert, associate professors of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and graduate student collaborators Daniel Bowen and Christopher Clark.

Importance Of Candidate Race

All respondents were asked "How important is it that a candidate is of your same race when it comes to your vote in the 2008 presidential election?" They could choose "very important," "somewhat important" or "not important."

For this question, results are presented for all Iowa registered voters and for likely Democratic caucus goers, given the presence of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in the Democratic race. The sample contained 97 percent white respondents, and only 3 percent nonwhite. Given the small number of nonwhites, results are reported for the full sample only without racial category breakdowns.

Statewide Registered Voters

Among all Iowa registered voters, 87.3 percent said it's not important that a candidate be of their same race. Another 11.7 percent said it is important (7.4 percent said it's somewhat important, and 4.3 percent said it's very important).

Likely Democratic Caucus Goers

Compared to statewide Iowa registered voters, likely Democratic caucus goers were less likely to say race is an important factor in their candidate choice. The vast majority - 90.9 percent - said it's not important that a candidate be of their same race; only 8.1 percent indicated it is important (5.7 percent said it's somewhat important, and 2.4 percent said it's very important).

Despite the overwhelming number of voters who claimed race would not be an important factor in their own decision, 40.4 percent of likely Democratic caucus goers believe Obama's race will be a problem for him in the 2008 election. Thus, race seems to matter when linked to a specific candidate, but not in the abstract.

Importance of Candidate Gender

Respondents were asked "How important is it that a candidate is of your same gender when it comes to your vote in the 2008 presidential election?" They were given the choices "very important," "somewhat important" or "not important."

Statewide Registered Voters

Among all registered voters, 86 percent said it's not important that a candidate be of their same gender, while 13.2 percent said it is important (7.8 percent said it's somewhat important; 5.4 percent said it's very important).

Likely Democratic Caucus Goers

Compared to statewide registered voters, likely Democratic caucus goers were even less likely to say gender was important in their candidate choice. Most likely Democratic caucus goers - 92.8 percent - said it's not important that a candidate be of their same gender. Only 7.1 percent said it is important (5.1 percent said it's somewhat important, and 2 percent said it's very important).

Although most likely Democratic caucus goers reported that gender is not an important factor in their candidate choice, 51 percent said the fact that U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is a woman will be a problem for her in the election. Thus, gender does seem to matter when linked to a specific candidate.

Gender Differences In Gender Attitudes

Men and women have very different perceptions about whether candidate gender matters to them. Among all registered voters, men were nearly three times more likely to say gender was important for their candidate choice (19.7 percent) than were women (7.4 percent).

UI political analysts said this may reflect more conservative attitudes about gender on the part of men, or it may simply reflect political reality - that women historically have not been able to vote for candidates of their same gender for high office, while men always could.

Partisan Differences IN Gender Attitudes

Among respondents who self-identified as Republicans or Democrats, including those who indicated they lean toward one party or the other, Republicans were more than twice as likely to say gender was important to their choice (18.8 percent) than were Democrats (8.7 percent). Even so, the large majority from both parties claimed it is not important that candidates be of their own gender.

Caucus Candidate Weakness

Likely caucus goers were asked a series of questions about the three leading candidates from their party, including a single question for each candidate probing a potential weakness that has been discussed in the media. Results show that both Democrats and Republicans perceive their leading candidates to have potential challenges based on personal characteristics or ideological beliefs.

Likely Democratic Caucus Goers

Despite indicating that it is not important to them that a candidate be of their own gender or race, Democratic voters believe gender and race may matter in the general election.

Likely Democratic caucus goers think Clinton's gender and Obama's race could hurt the two candidates' electoral chances, but view the wealth and trial-lawyer background of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., as less of a barrier.

Democratic caucus goers view Clinton's gender as more of a barrier than Obama's race. In the poll, 40.4 percent agreed with the statement, "The fact that Barack Obama is black will be a problem for him," while 51 percent agreed with the statement, "The fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman will be a problem for her." When asked whether they agreed with the statement, "The fact that John Edwards is a trial lawyer will be a problem for him," only 26 percent agreed.

Likely Republican Caucus Goers

Three Republican front-runners -- U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- have traits that cause concern for likely Republican caucus goers.

Results suggest that public perception of McCain as a moderate and Giuliani's pro-choice stance are viewed as more serious weaknesses than the fact that Romney is Mormon. However, a significant portion of Republican caucus goers view all three traits as potentially damaging to the candidates' electoral chances.

In the poll, 64.1 percent agreed with the statement, "The fact that John McCain is not conservative enough of a Republican will be a problem for him." A similar percentage, 62.9 percent, agreed with the statement, "The fact that Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice will be a problem for him." Only 49.1 percent agreed with the statement, "The fact that Mitt Romney is Mormon will be a problem for him."

Of all the potential hurdles 2008 presidential candidates face, gender appears to trump race and religion as the greatest obstacle to winning the general election, UI political scientists said.

Sample Characteristics

Of the 1,290 poll participants 32 percent were Republican, 36 percent Democrat and 32 percent Independent, which closely matched the composition of Iowa voters. Of the full sample, 508 were identified as likely caucus goers. Of the likely caucus goers, 298 plan to attend the Democratic caucus while 178 plan to attend the Republican caucus, and the remainder were undecided. The margin of error for all likely caucus goers is +/- 4.4 percent, +/- 5.5 percent for the Democratic subsample, and +/- 6.5 percent for the Republican subsample.

The poll was carried out with the cooperation and facilities of the UI Social Science Research Center.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: UI political scientists David Redlawsk, 319-335-2352 (office) or 319-400-1134 (cell), david-redlawsk@uiowa.edu or Caroline Tolbert, 319-335-2360 (office), caroline-tolbert@uiowa.edu; UI graduate student collaborators Christopher Clark, 319-335-2319 (office), 314-398-2835 (cell), Christopher-clark@uiowa.edu or Daniel Bowen, 319-335-2319 (office), daniel-bowen@uiowa.edu; Media: Nicole Riehl, 319-384-0070, nicole-riehl@uiowa.edu