Why AP called Iowa for Trump: Race call explained

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A U.S, Secret Service agent stands his post before Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a caucus night party in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump scored the first victory of the 2024 presidential primary season Monday with a sweeping and broad-based win in the Iowa Republican caucuses. The Associated Press declared the former president the winner based on an analysis of initial returns as well as results of AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who planned to caucus on Monday night. Both showed Trump with an insurmountable lead.

Initial results from eight counties showed Trump with far more than half of the total votes counted as of 8:31 pm. ET, significantly ahead of the rest of the field. These counties included rural areas that are demographically and politically similar to the large number of counties that had yet to report.

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The Associated Press has also determined that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will finish in a distant second, ahead of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. With an estimated 10% of ballots remaining to be counted, DeSantis led Haley by approximately 2,300 votes or about 2 percentage points. With votes reported in all but one of Iowa’s 99 counties, Haley isn’t doing well enough anywhere to catch DeSantis, based on the number of outstanding votes.

In traditional primaries, AP does not declare a winner in any race before the last polls are scheduled to close in the contest. It’s sometimes possible to declare a winner in those races immediately after polls close before any vote results are released. AP does so only when its VoteCast survey of voters and other evidence, including the history of a state’s elections, details about ballots cast before Election Day and pre-election polling, provide overwhelming evidence of who has won.

The Iowa caucuses are different. There are no “polls” and no fixed time when all the voting ends. Instead, there is an 8 p.m. ET deadline for caucus voters to arrive at their location, at which point deliberations among caucusgoers begin behind closed doors. Some caucus sites might complete their business in a few minutes, while others can take some time to determine the outcome.

For that reason, AP followed its past practice and did not make a “poll close” declaration of the winner on Monday night. Instead, AP reviewed returns from caucus sites across Iowa and declared Trump the winner only after those results, along with VoteCast and other evidence, made it unquestionably clear he had won.

This is the same approach AP has followed in declaring winners in past Iowa caucuses. In 2020, when Trump sought reelection, AP declared the former president the caucus winner at 8:25 p.m. ET. Declarations have taken longer in more closely contested races. In 2016, AP was not able to name Texas Sen. Ted Cruz the winner over Trump until 10:26 p.m. ET.

AP VoteCast is a comprehensive survey of both voters and nonvoters that provides a detailed snapshot of the electorate and helps explain who voted, what issues they care about, how they feel about the candidates and why they voted the way they did.

AP VoteCast found Trump had sizable leads among both men and women, as well as every age group and geographic region throughout the state. The survey found that Trump was favored by about 6 in 10 white evangelical caucusgoers. Polls showed that they were a relatively weak group of backers for Trump in Iowa in 2016.

Trump is significantly outperforming his second-place 2016 caucus finish, when he received 24% of the vote, compared with 28% for Cruz. That year, Trump placed third in some of the state’s most populous counties, including Dallas, Johnson, Polk, Scott and Story, all of which were carried by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. This year, he was either leading or running much more competitively in those counties.

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