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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Swinging Iowa

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Is Iowa a Swing State Again?

An interesting new AP article by Thomas Beaumont makes the case, drawing on recent demographic and political trends.

“In [2018], Iowans sent the state’s first Democratic women to Congress: Cindy Axne, who dominated Des Moines and its suburbs, and Abby Finkenauer, who won in several working-class counties Trump carried.

Democrats won 14 of the 31 Iowa counties that Trump won in 2016 but Obama won in 2008, though Trump’s return to the ballot in 2020 could change all that.

“We won a number of legislative challenge races against incumbent Republicans,” veteran Iowa Democratic campaign consultant Jeff Link said. “I think that leaves little question Iowa is up for grabs next year.”

There’s more going on in Iowa that simply a merely cyclical swing.

Iowa’s metropolitan areas, some of the fastest growing in the country over the past two decades, have given birth to a new political front where Democrats saw gains in 2018.

The once-GOP-leaning suburbs and exurbs, especially to the north and west of Des Moines and the corridor linking Cedar Rapids and the University of Iowa in Iowa City, swelled with college-educated adults in the past decade, giving rise to a new class of rising Democratic leaders.

“I don’t believe it was temporary,” Iowa State University economist David Swenson said of Democrats’ 2018 gains in suburban Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. “I think it is the inexorable outcome of demographic and educational shifts that have been going on.”

There’ much to agree with here but I do think the writer overestimates the centrality of the college vote and underestimates the challenge of the noncollege vote.

My take:

2018 was a surprising comeback election for the Democrats. They won the House popular vote by a stunning 10 points and flipped two GOP-held House seats in the state. The Democrats also gained a net of five state legislative seats. However, Republican Kim Reynolds beat Democrat Fred Hubbell for the governorship by 3 points.

The Democratic candidate in 2020 has a lot of ground to make up relative to 2016, but the 2018 results provide some reason to think that it may be possible. For Trump, he needs to simply approximate the voting patterns that brought him his solid 2016 victory. But one challenge for him is his current negative net approval in the state of -3 points.

Iowa is an exceptionally white state; nonwhites made up just 7 percent of voters in the state in 2016. These voters were divided up roughly 3-2-2 between Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/other races. Blacks and Hispanics supported Clinton by 76 points and 20 points, respectively. Asians/other races, however, were essentially tied between Trump and Clinton. Iowa’s white college graduates (31 percent of voters) gave Clinton a solid lead of 7 points, 50 percent to 43 percent. But among the enormous white noncollege group, 62 percent of voters, Trump ran up a 23-point lead, 58 percent to 35 percent. That was clearly the big story in the state.

White noncollege eligible voters in 2020 should decline by 2 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should increase by a little more than half a point. All nonwhite groups in the state should increase by small amounts relative to 2016: Blacks by 0.3 points; Hispanics by 0.6 points; and Asians/other races by 0.5 points. While these changes are all favorable for the Democrats, they will do relatively little to whittle their considerable 2016 deficit—a mere 0.6 points—if voting patterns by group in 2020 remain the same as in 2016.

Thus, if Trump can maintain or come close to his support among white noncollege voters in Iowa, he should carry the state easily again. A shift of 10 margin points against Trump among white college graduates, swelling the Democrats’ already solid advantage among that group, would still leave Trump about 6 points ahead in 2020.

For the Democratic candidate, his or her fortunes are clearly dependent on moving the very large white noncollege group in their direction. Indeed, if the Democrats could replicate Obama’s 2012 white noncollege margin in the state, they would actually carry the state by slightly less than 5 points, all else remaining equal. Even getting part of the way there could make the state competitive in 2020. That’s a tough challenge, but certainly the 2018 results in the state suggest this is possible.

So keep your eye on Iowa. It could be more in play than people have been thinking.

One comment on “Teixeira: Swinging Iowa

  1. Diann Vaughn on

    I’m a Democrat who really believed that Trump is mentally unstable! If the Dems want to push over the edge, they should continually show the crowd chanting at one of the games in DC, saying ‘lock him up’


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