Opinion | Iowa’s Democrats are getting bulldozed

Political realignment has doomed the fortunes of Iowa Democrats.


Infographic by Jami Martin-Trainor.

Shahab Khan, Opinions Columnist

The 2022 Midterms confirmed one thing about Iowa — it is not a swing state anymore.

Republicans ran the table, as they retained all their statewide offices by comfortable margins. In addition, the GOP managed to flip Iowa’s fourth house seat in the 3rd Congressional District and the office of the state attorney general. This almost gave them a clean sweep, but Democrats held onto the office of state auditor.

The Republican domination of Iowa is a microcosm of the political realignment occurring in the U.S. along lines of education polarization, and if Iowa Democrats do not begin to take this trend seriously, it will become even more difficult for them to win in Iowa.

In the previous era of American politics, it was considered conventional wisdom that the Democratic party’s coalition of young cosmopolitan liberals lived in coastal cities and in manufacturing hubs where most people were working class and had little to no college education.

On the other hand, Republicans had strong support among white, college educated voters that lived in the suburbs. This was in nexus with their support from rural, more religious voters who also did not have college educations.

In other words, the two parties had support across the socio-economic spectrum.

This was seen in Iowa, as Democrats generally had strong support in factory towns, such as Dubuque, Burlington, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Iowa City, which continues to have a high concentration of college graduates compared to the rest of the state, also heavily supported Democrats.

Meanwhile, Republicans did well in suburban towns surrounding Iowa’s major cities and in the rest of the state, which is rural and religious. Therefore, elections in Iowa were competitive, as Democrats and Republicans as their political coalitions, were roughly equal in size.

But as the 2000s and 2010s wore on, support for Democrats in Iowa’s industrial towns began to collapse as manufacturing jobs began to leave the state. As a result, the manufacturing towns began hemorrhaging people who moved out of the state in search for new opportunities.

Those that remained in these towns became enamored with former President Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016, his nativist message, and his promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to Iowa.

Nationally, Trump and his bombastic, autocratic style appalled most college educated suburban voters and drove them into the welcoming hands of Democrats. However, in Iowa, Democrats were not able to capitalize on the realignment largely due because Republicans have begun to run up the score in rural counties, and there were not enough suburban voters to win over, thus giving Republicans a clear advantage when it comes to the state’s political geography.

Because Democrats lost most of their support amongst non-college educated voters and were not able to make up the difference with those living in suburban districts, Iowa is now a safe Republican state.

In simple terms, any generic Iowa Democrat running for state office should adopt a platform similar to Bernie Sanders’s 2016 political platform, which advocated for the expansion of the welfare state while also insulating the manufacturing industry from foreign competition.

Only by becoming more protectionist in attitude can Iowa Democrats capture the working-class voters they need to be competitive in Iowa again.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.