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Here’s how Trump won in Iowa — and why the caucuses were practically over before they began



FILE - A man walks across the street below a sign for the Iowa Caucuses in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In some ways, Iowa’s Republican caucuses were practically over before they even started, with Donald Trump cultivating a deep network of support over three presidential runs.

Seven in 10 Iowans who caucused for Trump on Monday night said they have known all along that they would support the man who has remade the Republican Party through his “Make America Great Again” political movement. Trump was carried to victory by the majority of caucusgoers who say they back it, a sign of his growing influence in a state that denied him a victory eight years ago.

His chief challengers — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — tried to carve out their own coalitions. But none could match the demographic edges enjoyed by Trump in this year’s first presidential contest, according to the findings from AP VoteCast. Ramaswamy suspended his campaign after a disappointing finish in the caucuses.

Trump performed strongly in small town and rural communities, where about 6 in 10 caucusgoers said they live. He won with white evangelical Christians, who made up nearly half of the caucusgoers. He excelled among those without a college degree: 62% of caucusgoers in that group chose Trump.

If there is a reason for pause in his Iowa success, it is that many of the must-win states in the November general election are more urban, more suburban, more racially diverse and have slightly more college graduates as a percentage of their adult population than does Iowa.

AP VoteCast is a survey of more than 1,500 voters who said they planned to take part in the caucuses. The survey is conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The 77-year-old Trump entered Iowa as the caucus favorite, and AP VoteCast showed why he has become a juggernaut among GOP voters in the state.

The demographics favored him, but so did the issues that people prioritized: immigration and the economy.

Among the roughly 4 in 10 Iowa caucusgoers who identified immigration as the most important issue for the nation, 59% backed Trump. Those participating in the caucuses agreed with his hard-line stance on finding ways to limit immigration.

About 9 in 10 backed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, with about 7 in 10 expressing strong support for the idea first championed by Trump during his 2016 campaign. The vast majority, three-quarters, said immigrants do more to hurt than help the United States, an indication there is a desire to reduce overall immigration levels.

About one-third of caucusgoers prioritized the economy. Of those who selected it as their top issue, 53% supported Trump.

The key for DeSantis earning a second-place finish was the backing of conservatives, who favored him over Haley — even though they liked Trump most of all. About 7 in 10 Iowans who caucused defined themselves as conservatives. About two-thirds of the caucusgoers favored a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, and DeSantis performed slightly better than Haley among that group.

Haley finished narrowly behind DeSantis. She was the top candidate of the most anti-Trump Republicans in the state, including those who said the former president did something illegal in one of the pending criminal cases against him. She was also the top choice for Republican caucusgoers who voted for Biden in the 2020 election: two-thirds of them supported Haley. But she faced headwinds in a state that largely saw itself as loyal to Trump and his agenda.

DeSantis performed best among the caucusgoers dissatisfied with Trump but who said they would ultimately vote for him in the general election.

Most Iowa caucusgoers for either Haley or DeSantis said they would be dissatisfied with Trump as their party’s nominee. But unlike DeSantis’ backers, two-thirds of Haley’s caucusgoers say they would not ultimately vote for Trump in the general election.

Iowa also exposed some national vulnerabilities for Trump, who lost his 2020 reelection bid to Democrat Joe Biden.

The suburbs were a relative weakness for Trump. That’s a key challenge because AP VoteCast showed nearly half of voters in the 2020 general election said they lived in the suburbs. Only about one-third of Iowa Republicans in the suburbs supported him. Still, neither of his closest rivals bested Trump in the suburbs: about 3 in 10 Iowa caucusgoers in the suburbs also supported both Haley and DeSantis, respectively.

Nor did Trump have as much appeal with college graduates. About 2 in 10 of Trump’s Iowa backers held a college degree, compared with roughly half of those who backed DeSantis and slightly more than that for Haley.

And there are Trump’s legal troubles.

He was indicted multiple times in 2023 and faces the risk of one or more criminal convictions. But that appears so far to have done little damage to his standing with Republican voters.

Still, about one-quarter said Trump has done something illegal when it comes to at least one of the legal cases he is facing: his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, his alleged attempts to interfere in the vote count in the 2020 presidential election or the discovery of classified documents at his Florida home that were supposed to be in government custody.

Caucusgoers wanted to give Republicans the green light to dramatically alter how the federal government operates. Some showed an exhaustion with what they perceived to be politics as usual and a distrust of government institutions.

Many envisioned something of a demolition project for how the country runs. About one-third said they are seeking a complete and total upheaval. An additional 56% of caucusgoers said they want substantial changes.

The vast majority of caucusgoers trusted Iowa elections, but about 4 in 10 were not too confident or not at all confident in the integrity of elections nationwide. Nearly 6 in 10 said they have little to no confidence in the American legal system.

AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research for AP and Fox News. The survey of 1,597 voters was conducted for eight days, concluding as the caucuses begin. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files and self-identified registered voters selected from nonprobability online panels. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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