Sociology class survey finds ISU students likely to participate in caucuses

AMES, Iowa -- In spite of the fact that college students will be on semester break during the unprecedented early Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, a survey this month by an Iowa State University sociology class found that among 2,185 ISU students, 73 percent were already registered to vote, and 58 percent of those registered students intended to participate in the caucuses.

The survey was conducted by 25 ISU undergraduates taking a survey research methods course by University Professor of Sociology Bill Woodman. The sample represented 8 percent of 26,160 enrolled students at Iowa State and has a margin of error of plus or minus one percent. It was conducted Nov. 14-19 through an e-mail message containing a link to the survey site.

"One way of interpreting this is that these students are going to spread out over many small precincts in Iowa where one or two votes may have a huge impact," said Woodman. "If you can bring one or two students to a small caucus precinct, a candidate may become viable (in that caucus precinct) where they previously weren't."

The survey found that the majority of students have already made up their minds on their caucus participation, with 80 percent of those not now registered to vote indicating that they did not intend to register on-site during the caucuses. Among those who are registered and planning to participate, more identified themselves as Democrats (47 percent) than Republicans (31 percent) -- with 21 percent identifying themselves as independents.

Student support benefits Obama the most

Barack Obama stands to benefit the most from the student participation according to the survey, with 58 percent of registered Democrats indicating that he was their first choice among their party's field. Hillary Clinton, who leads in national polls, was a distance second at 14 percent.

"Clearly, Obama's got the most on the line there because he's one of the front runners and pinned a lot of hopes on student participation," said Woodman.

Democratic students identified the following as their top choices:

Candidate % (n=)
Barack Obama 58 (380)
Hillary R Clinton 14 (90)
John Edwards 11 (75)
Bill Richardson 9 (59)
Dennis Kucinich 4 (24)
Joe Biden 3 (18)
Christopher Dodd 1 (6)

Ron Paul stands to get the biggest bounce from a strong student turnout among Republican candidates as he was the top choice among registered GOP students at 27 percent -- three points higher than Mitt Romney, who has been leading in the polls of likely caucus goers. Republican students identified the following as their top choices:

Candidate % (n=)
Ron Paul 27 (104)
Mitt Romney 24 (93)
Mike Huckabee 15 (60)
Rudy Giuliani 13 (50)
Fred Thompson 10 (38)
John McCain 10 (38)
Tom Tancredo 2 (8)

But when students were asked to agree with the statement that all candidates were acceptable, only 37 percent of GOP students agreed, while 53 percent of registered student Democrats found all of their party's candidates acceptable.

ISU students also rated both Rudy Giuliani (32 percent) and Hillary Clinton (23 percent) as the most unacceptable candidates among the following Republican and Democratic rankings:

Candidate % (n=)
Rudy Giuliani 32 (126)
Ron Paul 23 (90)
Mitt Romney 20 (79)
John McCain 18 (69)
Tom Tancredo 16 (63)
Fred Thompson 16 (61)
Mike Huckabee 10 (39)
All are Acceptable 37 (142)
Candidate % (n=)
Hillary R Clinton 23 (151)
Dennis Kucinich 19 (124)
Joe Biden 12 (78)
Christopher Dodd 10 (67)
Bill Richardson 7 (47)
John Edwards 3 (21)
Barack Obama 2 (13)
All are acceptable 53 (344)

"The real striking thing is that among Democratic students, 53 percent said that all the candidates are acceptable, while the Republican students were a lot less charitable," said Woodman. "That could be a telling indicator of support in next November's general election."

Battle of the sexes

Among the respondents, 58 percent of females identified themselves as Democrats, while 65 percent of males identified themselves as Republicans.

All three of the top Democratic choices received the majority of their support from females, with Clinton receiving 80 percent, John Edwards 60 percent, and Obama 57 percent. Dennis Kucinich got the highest percentage of his support from Democratic males at 67 percent.

Fred Thompson had the strongest male support among Republicans at 74 percent, with Paul (67 percent), Romney (61 percent) and Mike Huckabee (61 percent) also receiving the majority of their support from males. Giuliani was the only GOP candidate who received more than half of his support from females, with 62 percent.

The survey highlights how student participation could be key in tight caucus races by Jan. 3. It already played a big hand in the survey.

"What we did was run this survey as part of the students' training," Woodman said. "We operated as a focus groups to tease out the issues, with the result being that this is very much a student survey. In many places, the mechanics of doing a survey like this would be so daunting it would not be done at this level, but our department is so geared up to do these kinds of things and it's easy for us."

Woodman says his class will continue analyzing data on reasons why some students don't plan to participate in the caucuses.

A complete copy of the results is available at