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Democrats voted for change, GOP for faith and values

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  • Entrance polls indicate heavy evangelical turnout
  • Illegal immigration most important issue for Republican caucus-goers
  • Economy and Iraq important issues for Democratic caucus-goers
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(CNN) -- In the end, change mattered more than experience for Iowa's Democratic caucus-goers, and church, faith and values were priorities for Republicans.

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Iowa's first-in-line status give the caucuses substantial clout in U.S. elections.

The narratives that drove the Democratic and Republican campaigns in the months-long buildup to the presidential caucuses in Iowa played out in stark numbers, according to an early analysis of pre-caucus entrance polls conducted Thursday evening.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who heavily courted social conservatives, apparently benefited from a substantial turnout of evangelical Christians. Huckabee won the Republican caucuses handily. (See the Republican entrance polls)

Republican caucus-goers who told pollsters that a candidate's religious beliefs matters "a great deal" overwhelmingly supported Huckabee by a margin of 55 percent to 12 percent for Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who ran a better-financed and larger campaign in Iowa.

Huckabee had considerable support from people who described themselves as "very conservative." A third of that group supported Huckabee compared with 23 percent for Romney.

Among the 60-plus percent who identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, Huckabee received twice as much support than any other candidate -- 45 percent, compared with 19 percent for Romney.

"He is a man of deep conviction and I think people saw that. They couldn't make up their minds about Romney, and decided to stick with [Huckabee]," CNN contributor William Bennett said.

Huckabee, however, performed poorly among voters who said religion either didn't matter "much" or "not at all," which may prove troublesome in states like New Hampshire where religious voters play a less significant role in the Republican Party.

Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois who cast himself as the candidate of change won the Democratic caucuses.

More than half of all Democratic poll respondents said they were voting for the candidate who could bring about change and most of those votes went to Obama.

Fifty-seven percent of the Democrats polled said it was their first time participating in a caucus. More than 40 percent of those first-timers said they would vote for Obama as their first choice. (See the Democratic entrance polls)

Experience and electability in November -- the hallmarks of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign -- did not appear to resonate among Iowa's Democrats.

Obama also apparently had a better showing among young voters. Fifty-seven percent of poll respondents age 17 to 29 said they supported Obama. Clinton handily beat Obama among voters 65 years or older.

"This is as big a generation gap as I've ever seen in politics," said CNN's Bill Schneider.

More than half the Democratic caucus-goers were women but that didn't apparently help Clinton much. Entrance polls indicated she only captured 30 percent of that vote. Obama, meanwhile, won 35 percent.

Nearly 20 percent of the Iowa Democrats surveyed identified themselves as politically independent and 75 percent described themselves as either "somewhat liberal" or "moderate."

While the Iraq war was still very important for caucus-goers, domestic issues came to the forefront.

News of rising oil prices, the continued mortgage crisis and concerns about a possible recession clearly had an impact on voters from both parties Thursday evening.

Though illegal immigration was the most important issue for Republican voters, the economy was a close second. The war in Iraq ranked third, followed by terrorism. Huckabee beat the other Republican candidates on all four issues.

He beat Romney 36 percent to 30 percent among voters who said illegal immigration is the most important issue despite being pounded with commercials critical of his support for in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants in Arkansas.

The economy and the war in Iraq were tied as the most important issues for Democratic voters, followed by the health care. Obama captured the most of votes of any Democratic candidate in all three areas among those polled.

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Clinton, however, beat Obama among those who said the recent turmoil in Pakistan was very important in how they voted -- about 45 percent of Democratic caucus-goers.

The apparent decrease in violence in Iraq due to a surge in U.S. troops last year may have contributed to the war diminishing in importance among Iowans.

The U.S. military death toll for December was the second-lowest month death toll of the Iraq war. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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