Entrance and exit polling from the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 and New Hampshire primary Tuesday shows that healthcare and the climate crisis are among the top issues for 2020 Democratic voters and the majority of them support bold action on both fronts.
The Washington Post‘s entrance poll in Iowa and exit poll in New Hampshire found that in those states—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won the popular vote in both—voters said their “most important” issue was healthcare (42% and 37%), followed by climate change (21% and 25%). The other two options were foreign policy and income inequality.
Waleed Shahid, who worked on Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and is now a spokesperson for the progressive group Justice Democrats, highlighted the Post‘s New Hampshire polling in a Tuesday night tweet, noting that Sanders won the state’s largest share of voters who selected healthcare as the most important issue.
Healthcare is a key topic that sets Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) apart from the other candidates in the race. Although they have different plans, both senators support replacing the nation’s current for-profit system with a Medicare for All program. Other candidates propose retaining private insurance and expanding coverage with a public option, such as the widely pilloried “Medicare for All Who Want It” proposal introduced by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Adam Gaffney is the president of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a single-payer advocacy organization. In response to Shahid’s tweet, Gaffney said late Tuesday that “a deciding factor in the outcome of the primary—and potentially in the general—could very well prove to be healthcare.”
In terms of issues that matter most to voters, early exit polls that CNN conducted in New Hampshire lined up with the Post‘s results. CNN reported that more than a third of voters said “healthcare was the most important issue in determining their vote,” followed by about three in 10 who named climate change as their top concern.
“Sanders was the clear favorite” among voters most concerned about healthcare, according to CNN, “garnering support from more than three in 10.” CNN also found majority support for a Medicare-for-All-style healthcare plan, reporting that “almost six in 10 New Hampshire Democratic primary voters today said they would support such a government plan.”
Post reporter Jeff Stein noted on Twitter that his newspaper’s exit poll showed similar support for Medicare for All in the Granite State, which also aligned with results from caucusgoers in Iowa.
As Stein reported after caucuses ended in Iowa on Feb. 3:
The preliminary exit polls, conducted by Edison Research, found that 57 percent of Iowa Democratic caucusgoers support a single-payer plan, and 38 percent oppose the proposal to eliminate private health insurance, leading some single-payer supporters to claim they were vindicated.
“The conservative wing of the Democratic Party has been telling us voters won’t swallow Medicare for All once they learn they will lose their insurance,” said Matt Bruenig, founder of People’s Policy Project, a socialist think tank. “But these results show voters are ready for Medicare for All. What more is there to say?”
While the entrance and exit polling sends a clear message to the eight remaining Democratic presidential candidates about voters’ priorities, acting on those issues requires first winning the party’s nomination and beating President Donald Trump in November—which means the candidates must inspire enough people to turn out for primaries and caucuses as well as the general election.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, the greatest share of voters were aged 45–64; Buttigieg did best with those voters in both states. Sanders, the oldest candidate in the race at age 78, won over about half of all Iowa and New Hampshire voters under 30. He was followed by Buttigieg, the youngest candidate at age 38, who secured support from about a fifth of young voters in each state, according to the Post.
Turnout for the Iowa caucuses was, in the words of Vox‘s Emily Stewart, “pretty anemic,” but Post entrance polling showed that the share of caucusgoers under age 30 in the state rose by a third relative to 2016—an outcome that was celebrated by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which advocates for ambitious climate action and implementing a Green New Deal.
The Sunrise Movement said last week that the rising rates of first-time and younger caucusgoers in Iowa demonstrate that “there is a broad, widespread mandate for the Green New Deal.” The movement also celebrated the efforts of its members in Iowa, who spent months working to convince climate-conscious Democrats and young people to participate in the caucuses.
Unlike Iowa, the voter turnout in New Hampshire surpassed that of not only 2016 but also the historically higher numbers in 2008. As NPR noted Wednesday, boosting turnout is a key strategy for many Democrats, but particularly Sanders. “The New Hampshire turnout should assuage some Democratic concerns,” NPR reported. “But remember that the primaries there are semi-open, meaning independent voters can participate in either the Republican or Democratic primary.”
While the race in New Hampshire was tight—so far, Sanders has just over 4,300 more votes than Buttigieg—Sunrise electoral organizers Sophia Zaia wrote in an email to movement supporters Wednesday that “Bernie’s victory in New Hampshire shows just how ready we are as a country to elect Green New Deal leaders at all levels of office.”
Zaia highlighted that organizers with the Sunrise Movement, which endorsed Sanders last month, “knocked 20,000 doors, made 33,000 thousand phone calls, and turned out in record numbers to the polls” in New Hampshire. Those efforts were also pointed out on Twitter Tuesday by movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash and applauded by author and activist Naomi Klein.
The nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire—along with the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22 and South Carolina Democratic primary on Feb. 29—are considered key early indicators of each candidate’s chances of remaining in the race and securing the presidential nomination. Following those four contests, more than a dozen states will hold Super Tuesday primaries on March 3.
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