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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 25, 2008

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UI Hawkeye Poll: Iowans had fun at their caucuses

Despite the chaos of a record turnout, long lines and crowded rooms, Iowans had fun at their caucuses on Jan. 3, a new University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll shows.

"Nearly 86 percent of all Iowa caucus attendees we surveyed told us they had fun," said David Redlawsk, director of the Hawkeye Poll. "Iowans didn't caucus just for the fun of it, but most seem to have discovered the fun factor in caucusing."

The random-sample telephone survey of 306 Democratic and 223 Republican caucus attendees was carried out by Redlawsk and Caroline Tolbert, associate professors of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The survey was conducted Jan. 5 to 10.

Why Iowans caucused

Caucus attendees had many reasons for attending in addition to expressing support for a presidential candidate, the Hawkeye Poll showed. Respondents were given a series of possible reasons to attend their caucus and asked to indicate which reasons they agreed with. Across parties, while most (89 percent) attended to show support for a candidate, a majority also attended to show support for their party (69 percent), and an overwhelming number (95 percent) agreed that attending was the "right thing to do." At the same time, 40 percent attended to show support for an issue, and 27 percent attended to oppose a candidate. Only 19 percent attended because a friend or family member asked them to go. And while 86 percent of Iowans overall reported having fun at their caucus, only 26 percent said they attended a caucus because "it is a fun, social event."

"Most people caucus because of the presidential candidates," Redlawsk said. "Still, substantial numbers show up to support their party or an issue. What's a bit surprising is that given the Clinton campaign's focus on bringing a 'buddy' to caucus, relatively few caucus-goers came because someone asked them to. We did see a small difference between men and women on this point, however, with 22 percent of women and only 16 percent of men saying they came because someone asked them."

Almost half of those surveyed -- 46 percent -- had never caucused before. These first-timers were less likely to caucus for the fun of it (23 percent of first-timers vs. 28 percent of veteran caucus-goers), more likely to attend because they were asked to by a friend or family member (30 percent of first-timers vs. 10 percent of veteran caucus-goers), and surprisingly, the first-timers were more likely to attend to oppose a candidate then experienced caucus-goers (32 percent vs. 23 percent).

"We do see first-time caucus-goers as more likely to be mobilized by someone asking them to go," Redlawsk said. "Getting out to your first caucus really does require motivation, and being asked by a friend of family member may be just what someone needs to get out on a cold winter night. Veteran caucus-goers are used to this and know what to expect, so they are less likely to be influenced by someone else."

Female caucus-goers were also more likely to attend because someone asked them to, with 22 percent of all women selecting that as a reason, compared to 16 percent of men. Women were more likely to say they caucused to support an issue (43 percent women vs. 37 percent men) or to support their political party (67 percent women vs. 57 percent men.)

Comparing the two parties, no reason for caucusing was selected more by Republicans than Democrats. However, Democrats as a whole were more likely to say they caucused to support a candidate (92 percent vs. 86 percent of Republicans); because the caucus is a fun, social event (30 percent vs. 20 percent); to oppose a candidate (30 percent vs. 24 percent); or because a friend of family member asked them to (23 percent vs. 14 percent).

More Democrats than Republicans had fun caucusing

For Democrats and Republicans, the Iowa Caucuses are vastly different experiences. Democrats are likely to face varying levels of chaos as they negotiate candidate viability requirements, multiple public votes, and bargaining with opposition candidates' supporters. Republicans, on the other hand, face a more familiar voting procedure of simply casting a ballot. Even so, slightly more Democrats said they had fun (88 percent vs. 83 percent).

One might suspect that more Democrats had fun because of the vibrant engagement with their neighbors, Redlawsk said. But comparisons among Democratic caucuses that differed in structure provide evidence against that notion. Fifteen percent of Democratic respondents said they attended a caucus that did not break into preference groups. These Democrats were just as likely to say they had fun as Democrats who did break into preference groups. In both cases, 88 percent said they had fun.

One difference appeared between Democrats whose first choice was viable and those who supported a non-viable candidate. While Democrats whose first-choice candidate was viable were equally likely to have had fun as Democrats in general, those whose first choice was found not viable were 6 percent less likely to have had fun (83 percent vs. 89 percent of those with viable candidates). Similarly, Democrats who were asked by someone at their caucus to change their mind and support a different candidate were 9 percent less likely to have had fun (82 percent vs. 91 percent).

Satisfaction with candidate choices impacted fun

Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to be "very satisfied" with their candidate choices (74 percent vs. 32 percent). Across both parties, only 63 percent of respondents who were "not satisfied" with their candidate choices said they had fun, but 89 percent of those who were "very satisfied" with their choices had fun.

"Clearly, seeing the caucus experience as fun is directly related to satisfaction with the choices available to voters," Redlawsk said. "And given that Republicans were as a whole less happy with their choices, it's no surprise they were less likely to say they had fun at their caucus."

Democrats of all stripes had fun, but among Republicans, the strongest conservatives were more likely to have fun. For Democrats, the difference in having fun between those who merely lean liberal and those who are strong liberals was a mere 4 percent (89 percent vs. 84 percent). The difference between Republicans who lean conservative and those who are strong conservatives, however, was 15 percent (76 percent vs. 91 percent).

Redlawsk and Tolbert conducted the Hawkeye Poll with graduate students James Rydberg and Howard Sanborn, and undergraduate student Brigid Feymuller, all of the UI. The poll was carried out with the cooperation and facilities of the UI Social Science Research Center, directed by Sociology Professor Kevin Leicht. The UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the UI Office of the Provost provided funding for the poll.

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

MEDIA CONTACTS: David Redlawsk, UI Hawkeye Poll, 319-400-1134 (cell),; Kevin Leicht, UI Social Science Research Center, 319-335-2502 (office), 319-621-0570 (cell),; Nicole Riehl, UI News Services, 319-384-0070,