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Network news, advertising key sources of information for Iowa caucusgoers

Seeing the candidates in person not as vital, research finds

Kelly Winfrey, research coordinator for Iowa State University's Catt Center for Women and Politics and an assistant prof
Kelly Winfrey, research coordinator for Iowa State University’s Catt Center for Women and Politics and an assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. (Iowa State University photo)

Democrats competing for support in Monday’s caucuses have had more than 2,200 campaign events in Iowa since the last presidential election.

Some of them have drawn large crowds, like at a Saturday night rally in Ames that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign said attracted over 1,000 people, plus thousands more watching a livestream online.

And last September, the Polk County Democrats’ steak fry drew an estimated 12,000 people to see several candidates.

And yet Iowans say that seeing the candidates in person ranks at the bottom of a list of 12 most frequently used sources of information, according to an Iowa State University survey of 500 Democrats who plan to caucus.

Although 46 percent of the respondents had seen at least one candidate at least once, the likely caucusgoers reported getting their information from a variety of other sources, too, said Kelly Winfrey, research coordinator for ISU’s Catt Center for Women and Politics and an assistant professor in journalism and communication.

National network news is as the top of other information sources, followed by advertising and discussions with family and friends, the survey found.

“Examining the sources caucusgoers use tells us a little about the type and quality of information they are getting,” Winfrey said. “For example, national network TV news tends to be relatively objective and covers the candidates polling as well as the issues.”

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Based on the results, she added, the survey shows debates matter “because they helped caucusgoers decide who to support.”

Debates ranked sixth as a source of information about the candidate and second as a source in deciding which candidate to support.

Although seeing candidates in person ranked last as a frequently used source of information, the survey respondents ranked in-person contact with candidates eighth out of 12 sources of information important in deciding whom to support.

In addition to asking about sources of information, the survey asked the likely caucusgoers which candidates were the most qualified, compassionate, honest and electable.

Winfrey said 76 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that former Vice President Joe Biden could win the general election against President Donald Trump, followed by Sanders at 68 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 60 percent. They also were rated as the most qualified.

When it comes to honesty and compassion, however, there appears to be a conflict between the head and the heart of likely caucusgoers, Winfrey said. The likely caucusgoers rated Biden as most likely to beat Trump, but Sanders and Warren as more honest and compassionate. The voters viewed them as more similar in values and experience, she said.

Sexism plays a role in the views expressed on the women candidates’ electability, Winfrey said the survey found.

“Greater sexism is associated with the view that Warren and (Minnesota Sen. Amy) Klobuchar can’t win the general election,” she said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Most frequently used sources for information

1. National network news

2. Campaign advertising

3. Discussion with family and friends

4. Local TV news

5. Internet publications

6. Debates

7. Cable TV

8. Newspapers

9. Candidate website/social media

10. Radio

11. Discussion with co-workers

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12. Seeing candidates in person

Most important sources in deciding who to support

1. National network news

2. Debates

3. Local TV news

4. Cable news

5. Internet news sources

6. Candidate website and social media

7. Discussion w/ family and friends

8. Seeing candidates in person

9. Advertising

10. Newspapers

11. Discussion w/ co-workers

12. Radio

Electability

Percentage of survey respondents who strongly agreed or agreed the candidate could win the general election:

• Biden 75.6%

• Sanders 67.8%

• Warren 60.2%

• Buttigieg 51.2%

• Klobuchar 26.3%

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