Iowa Republicans: Obamacare and Terrorism Sizzle While Social Issues Still Matter

Likely GOP caucus-goers send mixed signals about how crucial a candidate's immigration stance will be.

Roberta Krantz, a self-proclaimed Tea Party Patriot, waits to enter the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015.

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers are clear: They want a president who will repeal Obamacare and crack down on terrorists here and abroad, and any presidential hopeful who wants to build GOP support in this early nominating state will likely have to toe the conservative line on social issues, a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows.

Democrats likely to participate in the caucuses want something entirely different: A president focused on jobs, climate change, and income inequality, another reminder of the wide gulf between the two parties going into the 2016 election cycle.

More than 90 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucus participants said they favored pursuing terrorists more aggressively, while 80 percent were in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Asked which one or two issues were most important to them, the same two issues stood out: 45 percent wanted to repeal Obamacare, while 43 percent wanted more aggressive pursuit of terrorists.

The GOP poll results, compiled from interviews with 402 likely Iowa Republican caucus participants Jan. 26-29, suggest some reasons why former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have struggled so far while more conservative figures such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee have greater support.  

politics poll - Jan 2015-CC_Q20

“We need a conservative approach; we have got to turn this whole country around,” said Dennis Ard, 70, a retired teacher from Sioux City who favors Walker. “I’m looking for a real American, as American as I can find, as patriotic as I can find, with those values that I’ve grown up understanding. I’m looking for a pro-life person that I guess would be maybe very conservative; to me, it’s normal. Other than that, jobs are the most important thing in this country.”

Ard said he thinks Bush’s rivals have twisted his stance on immigration to make him sound more liberal than he is. He said he thinks Bush cares about education, but he added he is concerned about “too much federal control in education.”

“I really, really like Jeb Bush and would push him first, but you know what I’m afraid of? They will think, ‘Oh, another Bush,’ and the politics that went along with his brother,” Ard said. “I’m just afraid that it would be a close race but I don’t think Bush could pull it off.”

Likely Republican caucus participants are galvanized around several hot-button issues. Along with their firm stance in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act, 70 percent oppose legalizing marijuana. Two-thirds oppose making gay marriage legal nationwide.

The findings offer some mixed signals about immigration reform, potentially a trouble spot for Bush because some within his party consider him to be soft on the issue. While 65 percent of the Republican sample opposes creating a path to permanent residency for people living illegally in the U.S., only 9 percent identified it as the most important issue for the next president to address, down from 11 percent in an October poll, and just 12 percent said it was among the top two issues of importance to them personally, placing it behind building the Keystone XL pipeline on their priority list.

politics poll - Jan 2015-CC_Q18

In another potential drag on Bush in Iowa, 61 percent said they oppose implementing the Common Core education standards, which the former governor has supported. 

Yet the survey suggests that likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers don’t see most of those litmus tests as deal-breakers. Asked to identify the most important issues for the next president to address, survey respondents led with terrorism, at 25 percent, up from 16 percent in the October poll, likely as a result of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. The federal deficit was next, at 21 percent. Only 8 percent identified health care and 7 percent social issues as most important.

Martha Miller, 55, a registered nurse and homemaker from Wapello, Iowa, whose early favorites in the potential field are Walker and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, said while terrorism is the most important issue for her, she’d feel less motivated to support a Republican who wants to liberalize immigration policy, nationalize school standards, or keep Obamacare in place.

Ultimately, a strong anti-abortion stance is the only issue Miller considers non-negotiable. “It’s more important that they win,” she said. “It really is. I’m not always going to be able to have my agenda, and I look at the big picture—except when it comes to abortion.”

The survey also reflects the extent to which the two parties are talking past one another. “They’re just not at the same table having a conversation together,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of West Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “They’re talking about different things.”

The top issue for the next president in the minds of 401 likely Democratic caucus participants also surveyed was unemployment and jobs, at 21. Climate change was the top issue for the next president to tackle in the minds of 13 percent of the Democratic sample, while a grand total of one respondent in the Republican sample agreed.

Climate change is the most important issue the next president will confront, followed by income inequality, said Robert Haug, 68, of Ames, a likely Democratic caucus-goer.

“I don’t think it’s a view that the Republicans share,” said Haug, who said he'd be “happy” voting for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but favors the views of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. “It seems to me that most if not all of the current candidates on the Republican side are in compete denial about the scientific evidence about climate change.”

Asked which two issues were most important to them personally, likely Democratic caucus-goers cited taking steps to reduce income inequality (37 percent) and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for middle-class tax cuts (30 percent) over more aggressively pursuing terrorists (19 percent). Just 10 percent of the Democrat sample said repealing Obamacare was a top priority. “The polarization between the parties is obvious,” Selzer said.

More generally, there were two areas of partisan agreement in the survey: Support for more aggressively pursuing terrorists in the U.S. and abroad to prevent more attacks, and at the same time support for cutting back on surveillance programs that involve collecting telephone data of ordinary Americans.

While likely Republican caucus participants felt more strongly about the need for a more aggressive anti-terror policy than Democrats, both were overwhelmingly in favor of it—91 percent in the Republican sample and 70 percent in the Democrat sample. On the surveillance question, there was hardly any partisan difference, with 60 percent of the Republican sample and 63 percent of the Democrat sample saying surveillance should be cut back.

“They want their cake and they want to eat it too,” Selzer said of poll respondents. “They understand that right now terrorism feels like a more immediate threat than it has in a couple years, but they have also learned that there’s been what they think of as overreach by the federal government, the ability that the government is capturing their personal telephone conversations. They don’t want their head cut off, but they don’t want the government listening in on their phone calls.”

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

More from the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll

— Walker Surging as Bush Struggles

— Jeb Bush Has a Big Iowa Problem

— Romney Would Have Faced Many Campaign Hurdles

Full Iowa Poll Coverage 

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