Bernie Sanders answered two important questions with his strong showing in Iowa. But, despite his impressive finish, he’ll need to answer two more to truly threaten Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The most powerful lesson from the Iowa caucus results is that Democrats are facing not just a generation gap, but a Grand Canyon-sized chasm. As I wrote this week, age has emerged as the single most important dividing line in the struggle between Sanders and Clinton.
In the Iowa entrance poll (which questions voters on the way into a caucus, rather than on their way out the door, like “exit polls” in primaries) Sanders amassed astounding margins among young people. He crushed Clinton by an almost unimaginable six to one—84 percent to 14 percent—among voters younger than 30. For those tempted to dismiss that as just a campus craze, he also routed her by 58 percent to 37 percent among those aged 30 to 44.
But Clinton’s margins were almost as impressive among older voters: she beat Sanders 58 percent to 35 percent among those aged 45-64, and by 69 percent to 26 percent among seniors.
That’s an even wider age gap than Iowa produced in the 2008 contest between Clinton and Barack Obama. In that Iowa caucus, Clinton also was routed among younger voters, but Obama stayed more competitive than Sanders did among those older than 45. On both sides, John Edwards, as a strong third contender, also somewhat muted the contrasts. In 2008, Clinton ran 34 percentage points better among seniors than with those under 30; this week, the gap was 55 points.