John Kerry’s experience helped vault him to victory in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses and John Edwards won high marks for empathy while the anti-war vote split instead of rallying around Howard Dean, according to a survey conducted for The Associated Press, NBC and other television networks.
Kerry won among voters opposed to the war in Iraq, an issue that had been expected to be a Dean strength. Dean held an edge among those who said the war was the most important issue in deciding whom to support, but only 14 percent did so, according to an entrance poll by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
In a volatile race for the leadoff 2004 presidential contest, four in 10 caucus-goers said they made up their minds in the past week. Kerry won 39 percent of them, while 35 percent favored Edwards, helping him to a second-place finish. Just 14 percent of late-deciders favored Dean.
Race dynamics shifted in December
The dynamics of the race seemed to shift a month ago. Among those who said they decided before then, 32 percent backed Dean, 28 percent Kerry, 20 percent Dick Gephardt and 12 percent Edwards.
The survey was conducted for the AP and the television networks in the National Election Pool among 1,665 people as they entered 50 randomly selected Democratic caucus sites around Iowa. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Asked which quality mattered most in deciding which candidate to support, 29 percent said it was that he “takes strong stands on the issues.” The tough-talking Dean won three in 10 of them, but Kerry and Edwards did just about as well among that group.
Among the 26 percent who said the top quality was that their candidate can beat President Bush in November, Kerry won 37 percent, Edwards 30 percent and Dean 21 percent.
About one in five said the top quality was that their candidate “cares about people like me” and 41 percent of them backed Edwards.
71 percent for Kerry on experience
While fewer voters, 15 percent, said it was most important that their candidate “has the right experience,” an overwhelming 71 percent of them supported Kerry, the U.S. senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran.
Three in 10 caucus-goers selected health care and Medicare and roughly as many picked the economy and jobs as the most important issue in their decision. Kerry outdistanced the other candidates among health-care voters, and he and Edwards did equally well among those who cited the economy.
Among the 14 percent who said the Iraq war was the top issue, 37 percent backed Dean and 29 percent Kerry. And while 75 percent of all Democratic caucus-goers opposed the war, a third of them supported Kerry, compared to about a quarter each for Dean and Edwards.
Gephardt, who finished a distant fourth, won support from half who cited U.S. trade policy as the top issue, but only about 5 percent said that. Gephardt also did better among union households than most other groups, but Kerry had a slight edge and Edwards and Dean did as well as Gephardt among the labor vote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.