By a decisive margin, Democrats attending Iowa’s Democratic presidential caucuses Monday said they preferred a nominee who is more likely to win the general election in November than a candidate who shares their positions on key issues, according to early data from the NBC News entrance poll.
When asked to choose, about two-thirds of voters — 63 percent — participating in the caucus said they would rather see the Democratic Party nominate a candidate who “can beat Donald Trump,” while just one-third — 35 percent — want a nominee who “agrees with you on major issues.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who came within a hairsbreadth of winning the the Hawkeye State’s Democratic caucuses in 2016, was keeping the support of just over half of those who caucused for him four years ago, according to early numbers.
The remainder of the Vermont senator’s 2016 voters were divided among Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The early data pointed to a generational divide as voters under 30 said they supported Sanders while voters aged 65 and over said they favored Joe Biden.
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The entrance poll found Sanders capturing the support of roughly half of caucusgoers — 51 percent — aged 17-29, Buttigieg, Warren and Biden trailing well behind.
But among seniors, the early story was nearly the exact opposite: Biden was supported by nearly 4 in 10 participants — 37 percent — aged 65 and over, followed by Buttigieg, Warren and Sanders.
Health care led the list of issues that mattered most to Iowa Democrats participating in the caucuses, with about 4 in 10 caucusgoers (41 percent) naming it as the most important policy matter on their minds when they decided whom to support. Three other issues — climate change, income inequality and foreign policy — all trailed far behind health care.
Self-described liberals made up nearly 7 in 10 of those participating in the caucuses Monday, according to the early data. That is about the same as four years ago, but a big leap from the previous contested Democratic caucuses in 2008, when liberals made up just 54 percent of Democrats who showed up.
Sanders was the favorite of voters who called themselves either “very” or “somewhat” liberal, followed by Warren and Buttigieg.
But among caucusgoers who identified as moderate or conservative Democrats, Biden was the favorite, with about 3 in 10 of those voters — 29 percent — saying they planned to support the former vice president. Buttigieg, however, ran a strong second in that group with 22 percent.
Monday’s caucuses saw an uptick in late-deciding Democrats from 2016. About one-third of those participating said they waited until the last few days to make up their mind about whom to support, according to early data. That marks a substantial jump from four years ago, when just 16 percent of caucusgoers said they waited until this late to decide.
The early data showed a big dip in first-time participants, with just about a third of caucusgoers fitting that description. That’s lower than in 2016, when first-timers made up 44 percent of the state’s caucus participants.
This year’s level of new participants is well shy of that in 2008, when a whopping 57 percent of Democrats said they had never caucused before.
This is a developing story. Refresh for updates.