CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa voters used to consistently support Republican presidential candidates, but the state has been leaning toward Democrats since the late 1980s.
Iowans chose the Democratic contender in six of the past seven presidential races, though in all but five elections between the Civil War and 1988, Iowans had supported Republicans.
Experts say the voting shift is a reflection of the changing demographics of Iowa. The state continues to grow more urban and its residents are better educated. But that doesn't mean Iowa is destined to become a solid blue state, because Republicans could find new ways to appeal to Iowans.
Historian Tom Morain said the roots of Iowa's shift to supporting Democrats began roughly 80 years ago, with the widespread acceptance of federal farm programs during the Great Depression. That shift continued in the 1960s and 1970s with Democrat Harold Hughes' election first as governor and then as U.S. senator.
University of Iowa political scientist Timothy Hagle said the urbanization of the state intensified after the farm crisis of the early 1980s.
“Iowa became less oriented to agriculture, and (the crisis) accelerated the movement of Iowans from farms to cities,” he said.
Morain, who is the former director of the State Historical Society, said Iowa's evangelical church tradition is becoming less influential, because it is stronger in rural areas, which are losing population.
“As us old-timers kick off, we're not doing a good job of converting the younger generation to our perspective,” he said. “That will be reflected in a decrease over the next 25 years in the traditional evangelical Christian influence.”
Morain said people who attend some college or attain a degree tend to have a broader perspective on the world and are more likely to support Democrats.
Still, conservative U.S. Rep. Steve King was just re-elected to a sixth term, with 53 percent of the vote in his district.
“I think (Iowa's) always going to be a bellwether state that we're going to fight over,” the Republican said.
And Iowa will continue to have a significant political impact as long as its caucuses continue to be the first test in the nation's political season.
“If we can hold that together, we can long make recommendations on Iowa values to the rest of the country,” King said. — AP
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