The overwhelming message to come out of the Iowa primary was that voters are hungry for change. Both Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee won convincing victories. And in both parties the hunger for the new and different trumped the desire for experience and overthrew the establishment candidate.
There was another strong message in the subtext, however, that should give strong encouragement to the Democrats and raise the alarm bells among Republicans. I’ll get to that in a moment.
But first to go back to the Democratic side of the race, a secondary story is that Barack Obama’s message of hope, not only beat Hillary Clinton’s message of experience. It also trumped Edwards’ angry populism. Edwards played to the most liberal and angry part of the Democratic base. By contrast, Obama brought in first time caucus goers, many of whom were independents and young people. Turning out the young has been a nearly impossible feat in previous Iowa primaries, which favor the older, more established and activist voters. But most interesting of all was the fact that he even pulled in some Republican moderates.
In general, more people participated in the Democratic caucuses than in the Republican ones by 239,000 to 125,000 votes. That means that roughly 65% of all voters chose to caucus as Democrats and only 35% caucused with the GOP.
That means that independents are identifying more with the Democrats than Republicans, which is something political pundits have been picking up for a while. But more startling is that moderate Republicans decided to come out to the Democratic caucuses.
In some years, I might worry that this was part of a GOP strategy to throw the Democratic primary to the weakest candidate, ensuring an easier contest for their own choice in the general election. But that only happens when the Republican Party doesn’t have a competitive race of its own.
That’s not the case here. The Republican primary was as highly contested as the Democratic one was and just as fluid. So, those Republicans who decided to change affiliation and caucus with the Democrats may well have given up on their own party’s choices, at least for this election cycle. That can’t bode well for the GOP for the general election.
Obama won the Democratic caucuses by bringing in new people and broadening the party’s base. Huckabee, on the other hand, brought out a narrow segment of religious voters and won his caucuses by narrowing the Republican base.
I’m not sure how that affects the rest of the primaries and the general election but coming out of Iowa there were some interesting results and the beginning of a trend. We may well be seeing that people are tired of the status quo and want change. But they don’t want anger or divisiveness. In fact, that may be the very part of the status quo that they are rejecting the most. They want a president with fresh ideas, concern for economic justice, and the ability to get along with others to get things done in a pragmatic way. The change those Iowa caucus goers may have voted for was the end to the culture wars and the beginning of solutions to the problems that everyday people face, like the economy, health care, pension reform, and bringing the troops back from Iraq.
And above all, the voters seem not to want anger as much as they want inspiration. That’s a very American choice.