Why Huckabee Won

By: by Monika L. McDermott, CBS News Political Consultant
By: by Monika L. McDermott, CBS News Political Consultant

(CBS) Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won the Republican caucuses in Iowa on the strength of religion and values, according to a CBS News poll of attendees entering caucus sites on Tuesday night.

Evangelicals put in a strong showing at the caucuses - they made up an overwhelming 6 in 10 of attendees - and Huckabee was their darling, garnering 46 percent of their support in the crowded Republican field.

Participants in the Republican caucuses wanted a candidate who shared their moral values and religious beliefs, and Huckabee was their choice on both counts.

Forty-five percent of caucus-goers said they were looking for a candidate who "shares my values" when deciding whom to support, compared to a third who wanted a candidate who says what he believes, and 14 percent who want a candidate with experience.

Among those who wanted a candidate that shared their values, 44 percent supported Huckabee, while only 26 supported his chief competition, Mitt Romney.

Huckabee also picked up one-third of the voters who wanted a candidate who says what he believes. Romney could only manage 14 percent, while John McCain won 16 percent of these caucus-goers. Romney performed best among voters who were seeking experience: 37 percent supported him. McCain also did well in this group with 35 percent.

Having a candidate who shared their religious beliefs was important to two-thirds - 67 percent -- of voters at the Republican caucuses. Thirty-six percent said it mattered a great deal to their decision on whom to support, and 31 percent said it mattered somewhat.

Among those saying it mattered a great deal, Huckabee trounced his competitors, winning 56 percent of the vote. Only 15 percent of the GOP caucus-goers said a candidate's religious beliefs did not matter at all. Romney grabbed 40 percent of this group.

On issues and ideology, Huckabee was the conservatives' choice. Forty-five percent of caucus attendees called themselves very conservative, and 35 percent of them supported Huckabee, as did 34 percent of those considering themselves to be somewhat conservative.

Moderates - only 11percent of the pool - split between Romney and McCain, at 26 percent apiece. Only 22 percent of moderates supported Huckabee.

Despite attacks by Romney that Huckabee was weak on the issue of illegal immigration, Huckabee eked out an edge among GOP voters who chose immigration as the most important issue nationally. He also won on the issues of Iraq and the economy, garnering either a third or more support from attendees choosing these or immigration as top.

Huckabee's weakest showing was on the issue of terrorism, the most important issue to 21 percent of attendees. Caucus-goers concerned primarily with terrorism split their vote, with 26 percent for Huckabee, 24 percent for Romney and 22 percent for McCain. While McCain did well among these voters, his strongest showing was among those concerned with the war in Iraq. He won one-quarter of these caucus-goers.

Huckabee also showed strength among women - winning 41 percent of female caucus-goers, compared to only 24 percent for Romney. Among men the race was even, with Huckabee winning 26 percent and Romney 27percent.

He also did well among younger GOP voters, winning 39 percent support among caucus-goers under 45 years old. Romney enjoyed steady levels of support among all age groups, and McCain did best among the oldest attendees.

Poll results are based on a National Election Pool entrance poll conducted by Edison Media Research. Interviews were conducted with 1,600 caucus attendees as they entered caucus sites around the state. The margin of error for the poll is +2 percentage points.

Monika L. McDermott is assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches and conducts research on voting behavior and public opinion. Before joining the University of Connecticut, McDermott worked in election polling for CBS News and the Los Angeles Times. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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