AP VoteCast: Iowa caucusgoers want big changes, see immigration as more important than the economy

AP VoteCast: Iowa caucusgoers want big changes, see immigration as more important than the economy

By Josh Boak and Linley Sanders, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa Republicans are headed to their state’s caucuses Monday with a greater desire to focus on immigration than address the health of the U.S. economy – a possible sign that cultural fights might be eclipsing pocketbook issues as a motivator.

Their message to GOP candidates in this first presidential contest is clear: About 9 in 10 want an upheaval or substantial change in how the U.S. government operates. Many expressed skepticism about the government’s legal system and the integrity of American elections, evidence of the sway that former President Donald Trump still holds on a sizable share of the Republican Party.

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The findings from AP VoteCast reinforce the severe polarization seen in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. The answers by people headed to Republican caucuses point to a desire for major changes from Democratic President Joe Biden’s policies on issues that include abortion, race, gender identity, education, U.S. support for Ukraine and whether immigrants help or hurt the country.

About two-thirds of caucus attendees say they decided whom they would support more than a month ago, including about 4 in 10 saying they have known all along. About 2 in 10 say they only decided in the past few days. Most Iowans attending a caucus have done so before, but about 3 in 10 are first-time participants.

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

About 4 in 10 GOP caucusgoers chose immigration as the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast. About one-third said it was the economy. Fewer people named other priorities, including foreign policy, health care, abortion or energy.

The vast majority, about three-quarters, say immigrants are a negative for the country, an indication that caucusgoers are not only seeking more order on the U.S. southern border but major cuts on how many foreigners can come into the country.

About 9 in 10 in the survey back building a wall along that border, with about 7 in 10 expressing strong support for the idea that was first championed by Trump during his 2016 campaign.

The Iowa State Capitol building is viewed, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr) 

A burst of inflation in 2021 and 2022 has led many adults to view the U.S. economy as in decline. But over the past year, inflation has eased as supply chains improved, pandemic aid faded and the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rates.

People in Iowa appear to be relatively confident about their personal finances. Roughly two-thirds said their finances were holding steady or improving.

Caucusgoers want sweeping changes to how the federal government is run, suggesting they care far more about disruption than seeking common ground. About 3 in 10 say they are seeking a complete and total upheaval. About an additional 6 in 10 caucusgoers say they want substantial changes.

The vast majority of Iowa caucusgoers trust elections in their state, but about 4 in 10 are not too confident or not at all confident in the integrity of U.S. elections. Nearly 6 in 10 have little to no confidence in the U.S. legal system.

It’s not rocket science to say Republican voters want a nominee who is smart, strong and poised to win the general election in November. But that is exactly what they want.

About 9 in 10 say it’s very important for their nominee to have the mental capability to be in the White House. A similar share wants a strong leader, while about 8 in 10 believe it’s highly important that the GOP nominee pick be able to win the general election.

Now, mind you, most Republican caucusgoers still think they might have won the 2020 election that put Biden in the White House and ousted Trump after one term. About 6 in 10 believe Biden was not legitimately elected president, despite consistent evidence that he was.

Indicted multiple times in 2023, Trump faces the risk of one or more criminal convictions this year. But that appears to have done little damage to his reputation as the charges are seen through a political lens.

About three-quarters say the charges against Trump are political attempts to undermine him, rather than legitimate attempts to investigate important issues.

Still, about one-quarter say Trump has done something illegal when it comes to at least one of the legal cases he’s 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.

Many in the survey want the federal government to back away from world affairs. About half says the United States should take a less active role in resolving global issues. About 3 in 10 say the current role is about right, while 2 in 10 say the U.S. should expand its foreign engagement.

There is also a difference of opinion on which countries the U.S. should help. About two-thirds of Iowa caucusgoers favor continuing aid to Israel in its fight against Hamas. But about 6 in 10 oppose the ongoing aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Views on abortion are far from simple, but most Iowa GOP caucusgoers say there should be limited access to the procedure.

About 2 in 10 say that abortion should be illegal in all cases. About an additional half says it should be illegal in most cases. The rest say it should be legal in most or all cases. About three-quarters of those attending the caucuses support banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and about two-thirds favor a ban at six weeks of pregnancy.

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 1,517 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 3.5 percentage points. Find more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at https://ap.org/votecast.