WASHINGTON (AP) — In some ways, Iowa’s Republican caucuses were practically over before they began, with Donald Trump cultivating a deep network of support over three presidential runs.
About 7 in 10 Iowans who caucused for Trump on Monday night said they have known all along that they would support a 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 said he is suspending 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 are nearly half of the caucusgoers. He excelled among those without a college degree.
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.
HOW TRUMP WON IN IOWA
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, about 6 in 10 back Trump. Those participating in the caucuses agreed with his hard-line stance on finding ways to limit immigration.
About 9 in 10 back 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, about three-quarters, say immigrants hurt 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 did, about half support Trump.
DESANTIS’ DISTANT SECOND
The key for DeSantis earning a second-place finish was conservatives, who favored him over Haley even though they liked Trump most of all. About 7 in 10 Iowans who caucused define themselves as conservatives. A majority of caucusgoers favor 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 believe the former president did something illegal in one of the pending criminal cases against him. She was also the top choice for those Republican caucusgoers who voted for Biden in the 2020 election. But she faced headwinds in a state that largely saw itself as loyal to Trump and his agenda.
DeSantis performs 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 say 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.
POTENTIAL WEAKNESSES FOR TRUMP
Iowa also exposed some national vulnerabilities for Trump, who lost his 2020 reelection bid to Democrat Joe Biden.
The suburbs are 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 does Trump have as much appeal with college graduates. About 2 in 10 of Trump’s Iowa backers hold 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 say 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.
NO TO THE STATUS QUO
Caucusgoers are giving Republicans the green light to dramatically alter how the federal government operates. Some showed an exhaustion with what they perceive to be politics as usual and a distrust of government institutions.
For many, they are envisioning something of a demolition project for how the country runs. 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 caucusgoers trust Iowa elections, but about 4 in 10 are not too confident or not at all confident in the integrity of elections nationwide. Nearly 6 in 10 have little to no confidence in the American legal system.