With the Iowa caucuses too close to call in a three-way race that Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum are in contention to win, it's worth digging into the entrance numbers. And they offer three different storylines to explain a victory by each.
1) Young voters and independents: If Paul wins, he can thank younger voters. He is winning 48% of caucus-goers ages 17 to 29, who make up 15% of all GOP participants -- up from 11% four years ago. Second, he can thank independents -- almost half of whom are backing Paul. And third, he's getting 34% support from first-time caucus-goers.
2) Electability and the economy: If Romney wins, according to the entrance polls, it will be due in large part to electability. A plurality of participants -- 31% -- say the quality that matters most to them is the ability to beat President Obama, and Romney gets 49% from that group. On the other hand, Romney gets just 1% from the 26% who are looking for a true conservative, and he gets just 11% from those looking for a nominee with a strong moral character.
The economy also is benefiting Romney -- with four in 10 saying it's the issue that matters the most to them, and he wins 34% from that group.
3) Evangelicals: If Santorum wins, it will be due to strength among evangelical caucus-goers who rallied around him. Nearly six in 10 say they are evangelical or born-again Christians, and Santorum is getting 32% of that vote -- compared with 19% for Paul, 14% for Newt Gingrich and Romney, and 13% for Rick Perry.
And among the 47% who describe themselves as "very conservative," Santorum is getting 34% -- versus 16% for Paul, 14% for Gingrich and Romney, and 13% for Perry.