What’s moving Iowa’s caucusgoers, in three graphs

at 11:12 AM ET, 01/03/2012

The candidate preferences of likely Iowa caucusgoers have gotten plenty of press in recent days. But how are they developing those preferences? For instance: Are they most worried about finding the candidate able to beat President Obama or finding the candidate who best reflects their ideology?

The CNN-Time-ORC poll (pdf) conducted Dec. 21-27 helps shed some light on this question. The survey asked likely GOP caucusgoers which candidates voters agree with most on the issues, which candidate they think is likeliest to beat President Obama, and which candidate they support. I’ve combined the three questions on this graph:

As you can see, the candidate preferences of likely GOP caucusgoers are much closer to their issue preferences than their estimation of who can beat Obama. Issue agreement, in other words, seems to be driving the caucuses. So then the question becomes: which issues?

This next graph uses the same poll to look at the issues that likely GOP caucusgoers say are “extremely important” to their vote:

As you probably expected: the economy dominates. But which economic issues are foremost in likely GOP caucusgoers minds? If you guessed unemployment, you’re wrong.

My guess is that many of these caucusgoers are convinced by Republican rhetoric suggesting the deficit (and government spending, regulations, etc.) are the cause of our high unemployment, and so they’re working off the assumption that the candidate who can cut the deficit is also the candidate who can bring down unemployment.

As a matter of economics, that’s probably wrong. The International Monetary Fund found that, in the short term, deficit reduction tends to increase unemployment and slow growth. But what’s most peculiar about it is that most of the candidates competing in Iowa have tax plans that would blow large holes in the deficit and don’t have spending-cut plans that would come anywhere close to making up the shortfall.

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