Thursday, February 4, 2016

Iowa Entrance Poll Finding: Democratic Caucus-Goers Lurch Sharply Leftward in 2016, Republicans Less Conservative

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

An unquestionable, and entirely predictable ideological shift in the Democratic Party was confirmed by the Iowa entrance poll on Monday night. The first such poll to be conducted in eight years revealed that Democrats, or at least those willing to turn out for a night time caucus in Iowa, have become decidedly more liberal since their last meeting in 2008.

The fact was captured not only in the final vote count, which found a self-professed socialist virtually tied with a former Iraq War supporter, but turned up in black and white in the poll taken of Iowa Democrats as they entered their caucus site.

To be sure, there was an abundance of evidence that the Democratic Party was shifting ideologically leftward prior to the Iowa entrance poll. Since Bernie's campaign announcement last April, multiple surveys found a plurality of Democrats viewing socialism favorably - even more favorably then their views of capitalism. Routine political polling from the likes of Gallup and Pew Research also picked up on the increasingly liberal bent of the party. But caucus-goers confirmed the movement, and to an unmistakable degree.

According to the entrance poll provided by a consortium of major media outlets, nearly 30% of Democratic caucus participants identified themselves as "very liberal." That's an increase of ten percentage points since their last caucus in 2008.

At the same time, the percentage of Iowa Democrats identifying as ideologically moderate or conservative declined from nearly HALF of the 2008 caucus electorate, to just 32% in 2016. Self-identified "very liberal" and "somewhat liberal" Democratic caucus-goers combined for a total of 68% of the electorate in 2016; an increase from just 54% in 2008.

As obvious as the ideological trend already appears, it becomes more pronounced when looking further back at past Iowa entrance polling. For a quick reference, consider the table below:

Percentages are courtesy of 2016, 2008, 2004, and 2000 entrance polls.

In just sixteen years, the number of Iowa caucus-goers identifying as "very liberal" has nearly tripled. Over the same time period, moderate and conservative Democrats have seen their numbers decrease by nearly twenty points. The percentage of "somewhat liberal" caucus-goers has remained static.

In 2000, 2004, and 2008, liberals and moderate/conservatives represented roughly half of the Iowa Democratic caucus electorate apiece. Now, liberals outnumber moderates and conservatives by more than two to one.

Equally as noteworthy as the Democratic Party's liberal lurch in Iowa is the Republican Party's relative moderation. While the percentage of "very liberal" Democrats increased ten points over the course of eight years, the percentage of "very conservative" Republican caucus-goers dropped seven points in just four years. However, unlike the case on the Democratic side, moderate and liberal Republican caucus-goers did not see a corresponding increase in their numbers. But self identified "somewhat conservative" voters did.

To be as fair as possible, lets reiterate the typical caveats and criticisms of exit/entrance polls:

  • they're essentially an over-glorified, run-of-the-mill survey
  • they're subject to the same errors as any other poll
  • they're more prone to random sampling issues

Regardless, the next time the media focuses on a so-called increasingly right-wing Republican Party, as they're apt to do, conservatives can at least point to Iowa in rebuttal. And thanks to Bernie vs. Hillary, they might just be able to flip the usual narrative altogether.

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