Iowa caucus-goers rely on variety of sources to make decision

Voting booth

AMES, Iowa – Iowans have had ample opportunities to meet the Democratic presidential candidates, but likely caucus-goers say this access is not their most important source of information, according to a new Iowa State University survey. 

In fact, seeing the candidates in person was at the bottom of the list of 12 most frequently used sources of information, with national network news at the top. Advertising and discussions with family or friends were second and third, respectively, according to the survey of 500 Democrats who plan to caucus.    

Kelly Winfrey, research coordinator for Iowa State University’s Catt Center for Women and Politics and an assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, says caucus-goers use a wide variety of sources to gather information on the candidates. They rated national news and debates as the most important sources to help them decide who to support in the caucuses.

“Examining the sources caucus-goers use tells us a little about the type and quality of information they are getting,” Winfrey said. “For example, national network TV news tends to be relatively objective and covers the candidates polling as well as the issues. It also tells us that the debates matter because they helped caucus-goers decide who to support.”

Conflict between the head and heart

The survey asked likely caucus-goers which candidates were the most qualified, compassionate, honest and electable. Winfrey says 75.6% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that former Vice President Joe Biden could win the general election, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (67.8%) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (60.2%). The three also were rated as most qualified.  

However, Winfrey says when it comes to honesty and compassion there appears to be a conflict between the head and the heart of likely caucus-goers. While Biden was rated as most likely to beat Trump, Sanders and Warren were rated as more honest and compassionate, and voters view them as more similar in values and experience, Winfrey said.

The survey measured traditional forms of hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Winfrey says both forms of sexism were related to how favorable respondents rated Warren and Biden. For Warren, more sexist beliefs were associated with more negative feelings, and for Biden, higher sexism scores were associated with higher favorability scores.

“Sexism plays a role in views of the women candidates’ electability,” Winfrey said. “Greater sexism is associated with the view that Warren and Klobuchar can’t win the general election.”

Of the 500 survey respondents, 46% were men, 53% women and 1% nonbinary or preferred not to answer.