Have you ever detasseled corn? Do you live more than half a mile from your neighbors? Do you care intensely about the Cyclones-Hawkeyes rivalry?
For most Americans, the answer to these questions is "no"...and rightly or wrongly, many outsiders believe Iowa to be a world apart and find it easy to bemoan the statei's first-in-the-nation caucus. Every four years at caucus time come new complaints that the state is too small, rural, agrarian, or ideologically extreme to be representative of the nation. Here's why that view of Iowa might be wrong.
Iowa Conservatism Has Gone Mainstream
Iowans were conservative before conservatism was cool. The Republican Party has shifted to the right over the last several years—a place that Iowa conservatives have been all along. For this reason, "we are poised to be more representative as a national party than we were in 2008," says Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. In 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, known for his socially conservative views, won the Iowa Republican caucus with 34 percent of the vote, beating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 9 percentage points and besting eventual nominee and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain by 21 points. "Certainly the Republican caucus in 2008, and it appears perhaps in 2012, reflects a much more conservative side of the Republican party. On the other hand, as a whole, the Republican Party has shifted to the right over the last several years," says Bystrom.
Numbers Don't Lie
Iowa is perhaps smaller, older, and more rural than many other states, but it is perhaps not as corn-farmer-heavy as people might think—roughly 60 percent of the population lives in urban areas. In fact, when a broad spectrum of demographic data are considered, Iowa is among the most representative states in the nation, according to a 2009 study by political scientists from the University of Missouri and the University of Iowa. When a variety of economic, diversity, and social factors were taken into consideration, Iowa was the 12th most representative state in the nation, meaning that it hewed relatively close to national averages on those factors. Sure, there might be 11 other states ahead of it, but Iowa compares particularly well with California, New York, and Texas—high-population states that are also among the least representative.
A Variety of Republicans
Though Iowan Republicans may deviate slightly from the national party, the state's GOP still runs the gamut from far-right to centrist, says Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa. In the northwestern part of the state, says Hagle, the counties are "reliably Republican in terms of their voting," electing officials like Rep. Steve King, a member of the House Tea Party Caucus. In the eastern part of the state, home to like Iowa City, the population is more liberal, and Republicans track closer to the center, says Hagle.
Everyone Cares About the Economy
Iowa's unemployment rate is 6.0 percent, as of October—the seventh-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. But that doesn't mean that Iowa isn't suffering with the rest of the country. "Even though we're in better shape based on national averages...we're still in worse shape compared to what we're used to here," says Hagle. Iowa's unemployment rate, he says, tends to track below the nation's , and hovered around 3 to 4 percent throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. This means that uptick to 6 percent is still uncomfortable for Iowans. Iowa also is facing the housing crisis alongside the rest of the nation. According to Realtytrac, Iowa's October foreclosure rate was 1 in 745 units— relatively close to the national rate (1 in 563). Hagle also adds that Iowans care deeply about national economic concerns: "We realize what's going on in the rest of the country, and certainly Iowans are concerned about the debt and deficit."