What Happened in Iowa

Adam Martin
The Book Aisle
Published in
25 min readJan 13, 2021

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This is the fifth part of my 2020 presidential election analysis. Similar to the last part on Ohio, this part will look at Iowa, another state that was not covered in the leadup to the general election. Of course, Iowa was the subject of wide controversy last February following its botched rollout of app-based reporting during the caucuses that delayed the vote tabulation by several days. Now with a straight-up election, such issues were far less significant. But what happened in Iowa this time around?

Let’s dive in.

Big Picture

Joe Biden- 759,061 (44.95 percent, up 3.21 percent from Clinton in 2016)

Donald Trump- 897,672 (53.1 percent, up 1.95 from 2016)

FiveThirtyEight Projection- 48.5 for Biden (up 3.55), 50 for Trump (down 3.1)

RCP Average- 45.6 for Biden (up 0.75), 47.6 for Trump (down 5.5)

OurProgress Projection- 48.45 for Biden (up 3.5), 48.57 for Trump (down 4.53)

While not technically considered a part of the “Blue Wall”, Iowa does have a history of supporting Democratic candidates. It went for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2016 as well as Al Gore back in 2000. Some of that stems from the state’s status as the first-in-the-nation contest for presidential hopefuls, which has cultivated an independent-minded political culture that does not disproportionately favor Republicans. But some of it also comes from the historically Democratic-friendly tilt in the eastern part of the state, which contains many of its largest cities and college campuses.

But similar to the “Blue Wall” states, Trump also made a powerful dent in the state. In 2016, he won the state with 51.15 percent, a nearly 5-point swing from Mitt Romney and the largest victory by a Republican since Ronald Reagan. What was even more impressive is that he managed to flip 32 counties that Obama had won in 2012, a mind-boggling feat. Almost all of these counties were in the eastern part of the state, which had been a critical source of Democratic success in the state. On the other side of the coin, Hillary Clinton only received 41.74 percent of the vote, a 10-point loss.

Going into this election, there were questions on whether Iowa would return to the Democratic column or at least be highly competitive. Polls sensed a tight race, with President Trump being a slight favorite. While the stakes weren’t as salient as Ohio’s five-decade winning streak, there were still great interest in what the state would produce. In the end, President Trump won the state with an 8.15-point margin, only slightly less than his 2016 margin, and retained all 32 counties that he had flipped previously. Meanwhile, Joe Biden became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win the presidency without Iowa.

As of Election Day, there have been 134,260 COVID cases in Iowa, ranking 24th among the states. But despite being ranked 32nd by total population, this caseload is substantial enough to set the incidence at 4.3 percent, the third highest in the country (ahead of neighboring Wisconsin). On the other hand, there have been 1,780 deaths as of Election Day (ranked 30th), setting the fatality rate at just 1.3 percent (ranked 39th). Meanwhile, while still damaging, Iowa’s economic trajectory during the pandemic has been more mild than most of the country. Iowa went from 3.6 percent unemployment in March to 10.8 percent in April, a 7.2 percent increase that ranks 36th among the states. While no counties in Iowa cracked any of the top ten lists for pandemic metrics, Iowa’s fate is similar to those counties with the highest incidence rate, that being that they have a fairly low fatality rate and relatively modest economic impact despite infections being rampant.

According to the US Crisis Monitor, there have been 196 BLM protests in Iowa as of Election Day, ranked 29th among the states. Demographically, this state is in a weaker position for facilitating such activity than Wisconsin while lacking a major catalyst for driving such activity, such as the Jacob Blake shooting for its eastern neighbor and the George Floyd killing for its northern neighbor (which will be discussed in the next part of this series). Iowa has the 35th largest black population by raw numbers (and 37th by percentage of the total population), the 32nd highest amount of college graduates (and 35th by percentage), and the the 31st largest young adult population (and 23rd by percentage). Overall, Iowa isn’t as much of a hub for BLM protest activity than the other states discussed in this series.

As for the exit polls, President Trump won 66 percent of voters that said they were voting for their candidate, which comprised around 65 percent of the electorate, while Biden won 68 percent of voters that said they were voting against their opponent, which comprised 28 percent of the electorate. Biden also won 53 percent of first-time voters; however, this only made up 9 percent of the electorate.

For race, Trump won 55 percent of white voters, similar to the 54 percent he received in 2016. And given that Iowa’s electorate is over 90 percent white, this margin alone puts Trump over the top in the state (or close to that point). Meanwhile, Biden only won 76 percent of black (compared to 87 percent nationally), and 67 percent of Hispanic voters. On the whole, Trump’s advantage within these lopsided demographics is substantial.

Regarding educational attainment, Biden won 52 percent of the state’s college graduates, up from the 46 percent Clinton received in 2016, and 51 percent of white college college graduates (compared to 44 percent in 2016). This marks a substantial improvement for the Democrats in winning college-educated voters. But on the other hand, Trump continued to dominate with non-college graduates, winning 58 percent of these voters (compared to 54 percent in 2016) and 60 percent of whites without a college degree (compared to 58 percent in 2016).

As for age, the generation gap widened in Iowa from four years ago. Whereas Clinton lost the 18–29 and 30–44 age brackets in 2016 with 42 percent and 38 percent respectively, Biden won both these brackets this time around winning 51 percent and 48 percent respectively. Both of these are substantial shifts. But on the flip side, the 45–64 and 65 plus brackets became even more solidly pro-Trump in 2020, going from 53 percent to 59 percent and from 51 percent to 54 percent respectively.

Geographically, Iowa is another state where President Trump enjoys a strong advantage. On one hand, Biden only won 56 percent of urban voters, barely budging from Clinton’s 2016 performance and below the 60 percent he received nationwide. Meanwhile, Trump won 51 percent of suburban voters, although Biden was more competitive than Clinton with this group by winning over most of the 2016 third-party voters. And Trump won 63 percent of rural voters, who make up a staggering 39 percent of the state’s electorate (compared to only 19 percent nationwide).

Socioeconomically, 46 percent of Iowa voters said their family’s financial situation is better than what it was four years ago (compared to 41 percent nationally), of which 82 percent voted for President Trump. 13 percent said their family’s financial situation is worse than what it was four years ago (compared to 20 percent nationally), of which 87 percent voted for Biden. And 41 percent said their family’s financial situation is the same as it was four years ago (compared to 39 percent nationally), of which 60 percent voted for Joe Biden. Regarding income brackets, Biden only won 51 percent of voters making under $50,000 (below the 55 percent he received nationally). On the other hand, President Trump won 60 percent of voters in the $50,000-$99,999 bracket (compared to the 55 percent he received in Iowa four years ago) and 50 percent of voters making over $100,000 (similar to his 2016 margin). Similar to Ohio, Biden failed to win substantial appeal across various income brackets, only finding some success in the lowest bracket.

When asked about their most important issue, 36 percent of Iowa voters said the economy (compared to 35 percent nationally), of which 87 percent voted for President Trump. Meanwhile, 19 percent said the pandemic was the most important issue and only 10 percent said racial inequality, of which 88 percent and 91 percent voted for Joe Biden respectively. Given that Iowa is a very racially homogenous state, the fact that so few voters said racial inequality was their most important issue isn’t surprising; however, the fact that those saying the pandemic was the most important issue wasn’t higher considering that Iowa has one of the highest incidence rates in the country is telling. This carries over when voters were asked what was more important to accomplish, where only 48 percent said it was more important to contain the virus (compared to 52 percent nationwide) and 46 percent said it was more important to reopen the economy, of which 80 percent voted for Biden and 89 percent voted for President Trump respectively.

Now that we’ve gone over the exit polls, let’s run some regressions. First, here are various regression results for Biden’s county-level vote share.

Similar to other states where President Trump was more competitive such as Wisconsin and Ohio, the overall COVID incidence rate (B= -1.39; -1.70) is negatively associated with Biden’s vote share. Considering that Iowa has one of the highest incidence rates in the country, this finding is rather significant. While there’s no statistically significant difference in the incidence rate between counties that Biden won (u=4 percent) and counties that Trump won (u=4 percent), these regression results indicate that the high incidence rate experienced across most of the state did not help Biden’s performance.

On the other hand, while the unemployment increase from March to April is not statistically significant, the September unemployment rate (B= 3.25; 2.64; 4.23) is positively associated with Biden’s vote share. This finding does deviate from observations in other states, where states with a higher September unemployment rate tend to be more receptive to President Trump, probably due to a greater resistance to public health restrictions on economic activity in these areas. But despite being a swing state that President Trump performed relatively well in, the opposite appears to be true for Iowa. One reason for this could be that the September unemployment rate is higher in counties that Biden won (u=4.8 percent) than in counties that Trump won (u=3.6 percent). This suggests that in Iowa, the negative economic impact of the pandemic is largely concentrated in more Democratic counties, which are already more opposed to President Trump and more favorable to public health measures.

Aside from this, we see similar trends for race, age, and educational attainment. Although it should be noted that while the education gap is still prevalent in Iowa, it’s mostly driven by those with lower educational attainment being more receptive to Trump. On the other hand, there’s no statistically significant relationship between the share of college graduates and the Biden vote share. To that end, the education gap in Iowa is more one-sided than it is in other states.

While we see some notable relationships with the Biden vote share, we see few relationships for the change in Democratic vote share, suggesting that many of these relationships seen in Figure 1 have carried over from 2016. The one main observation here is that there’s a positive relationship with the share of college graduates (B=0.17; 0.16), indicating that counties with more college graduates have slightly shifted more favorably towards Biden since 2016.

With all that established, let’s look at each of the subsections in Iowa.

Solidly Democratic Counties

Johnson (Iowa City, University of Iowa)- Biden Hold

Biden- 59,177 (70.28 percent, up 5.04), Trump- 22,925 (27.23 percent, down 0.12)

OurProgress Projection- 73.2 for Biden (up 2.92), 26.8 for Trump (down 0.43)

First, there’s only one solidly Democratic county in Johnson. Having backed every Democratic candidate since 1964, this county has long been a stronghold for the Party. Much of that has to do with Iowa City, the state’s fifth largest city, and the University of Iowa, which enrolls over 30,000 students. In 2016, Hillary Clinton closely matched President Obama’s vote share here, winning 65.2 percent of the county’s vote. And four years later, Biden improved upon that performance with 70.3 percent.

While this county by itself isn’t enough to make the Democrats competitive statewide, Johnson is still well into the Party’s fold. Demographically, 16.9 percent of its population is nonwhite (four times the state average) and 5.8 percent Hispanic. And regarding educational attainment, Johnson has the most college graduates in the state, where 53 percent of the adult population has at least a bachelor’s degree.

Socioeconomically, Johnson is affluent, but suffers from high inequality. On one hand, it has the 13th highest median household income in the state at $64,387, a reflection of its surplus of college-educated workers, and had an unemployment rate of just 1.9 percent in August 2019. But on the other hand, it has the fifth highest poverty rate in the state at 15.8 percent. And overall, Johnson has the third highest Gini Index in the state at 0.493, indicating a relatively high level of income inequality.

As of Election Day, there have been 6,368 COVID cases in Johnson, setting its incidence rate at 4.2 percent, around the state average. On the other hand, there have only been 33 deaths as of Election Day, lowering the fatality rate to just 0.5 percent, below the state average. Regarding timing, there was a considerable rise from the early months to the summer months; however, cases did dip slightly in the early fall months. Even so, infection has been fairly widespread here. And for unemployment, the impact here has been relatively modest, going from 2.5 percent in March to 9.8 percent in April. And in the months since then, it has largely recovered, with its unemployment decreasing to just 4.1 percent as of September. The high share of college graduates in the county can explain these relatively low numbers, as these workers are more likely to be in jobs that can be conducted remotely.

Finally, as of Election Day, there have been 38 BLM protests in Johnson, the second most in the state. Some of this is due to the fact that Johnson is the fourth largest county in the state, but considering its favorable demographics, such as a large share of black residents and college graduates, it isn’t surprising that this is a relatively active hub for protest activity. Another side effect of its proximity to a large university is that young adults account for a notable 23.9 percent of the population, creating an additional source of activity for the county.

Swing Counties

Black Hawk (Waterloo and Cedar Falls cities proper)- Biden Hold

Biden- 35,647 (53.23 percent, up 3.18), Trump- 29,640 (44.26 percent, up 1.6)

OurProgress Projection- 58.2 for Biden (up 4.97), 41.8 for Trump (down 2.46)

Dubuque (Dubuque city proper, on Illinois and Wisconsin borders)- Trump Hold

Biden- 25,657 (47.35 percent, up 1.39), Trump- 27,214 (50.22 percent, up 3.04)

OurProgress Projection- 54.32 for Biden (up 6.97), 45.68 for Trump (down 4.54)

Jefferson (southeastern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 4,319 (47.94 percent, up 2.45), Trump- 4,443 (49.32 percent, up 3.36)

OurProgress Projection- 54.58 for Biden (up 6.64), 45.42 for Trump (down 3.9)

Linn (Cedar Rapids city proper and surrounding communities)- Biden Hold

Biden- 70,874 (55.35 percent, up 5.03), Trump- 53,364 (41.68 percent, up 0.35)

OurProgress Projection- 58.12 for Biden (up 2.77), 41.88 for Trump (up 0.2)

Polk (Des Moines city proper and surrounding communities)- Biden Hold

Biden- 146,250 (56.24 percent, up 4.5), Trump- 106,800 (41.07 percent, up 0.7)

OurProgress Projection- 58.84 for Biden (up 2.6), 41.16 for Trump (up 0.09)

Scott (Davenport city proper, on Illinois border)- Biden Hold

Biden- 46,926 (50.43 percent, up 3.53), Trump- 43,683 (46.94 percent, up 1.54)

OurProgress Projection- 55.44 for Biden (up 5.01), 44.56 for Trump (down 2.38)

Story (Ames city proper, Des Moines metropolitan area)- Biden Hold

Biden- 29,175 (56.92 percent, up 6.18), Trump- 20,340 (39.69 percent, up 1.28)

OurProgress Projection- 59.82 for Biden (up 2.9), 40.18 for Trump (up 0.49)

Winneshiek (northeastern part of state, on Minnesota border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 5,617 (46.25 percent, up 0.01), Trump- 6,235 (51.34 percent, up 4.3)

OurProgress Projection- 54.05 for Biden (up 7.8), 45.95 for Trump (down 5.39)

Next, there are eight swing counties in Iowa. This subsection includes many of the states largest cities, including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport. Many of these counties have traditionally been Democratic strongholds, most having supported every Democrat since 1988. In fact, all of these counties were classified in the solidly Democratic subsection following the 2012 election given President Obama’s strong performance. Their placement in the swing county subsection is more a byproduct of Clinton’s underperformance in 2016. In 2012, President Obama won all eight counties with 56.8 percent of the vote. But four years later, Clinton only won five counties with 49.9 percent of the vote, translating to a net loss of 44,598 votes.

Now in 2020, Biden failed to flip back any of the states that Clinton lost; however, he was able to shore up supports that she retained. He ended up winning in the subsection with 54 percent of the vote, a respectable improvement but doesn’t reach the benchmark that President Obama set back in 2012. The improvements were noticeably smaller in the Obama-Trump counties, failing to surpass 3 percent. On the other hand, Biden saw much greater improvement in the four counties that Clinton retained in 2016. In addition to the three urban counties in Linn, Polk, and Scott, Biden also made a 6-point improvement in Story County, home to Iowa State University and former site of the Iowa Straw Poll, a once-major event for Republican presidential hopefuls in the months leading up to the caucuses.

Demographically, this subsection is more diverse than the rest of the state. 13.6 percent of the population is nonwhite, half of which are black, but the other half consisting of other minority groups, including Asian Americans and Native Americans. Hispanics also account for 6 percent of the population. Most of these groups live in Linn and Polk counties, with other notable pockets in the counties that Clinton and Biden retained over the last two elections. And regarding educational attainment, this subsection is very highly educated. All eight counties in this subsection are in the top fifteen statewide for the highest concentration of college graduates. Black Hawk, the lowest ranked county in the subsection, is still 13th statewide, where 28.6 percent of adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Socioeconomically, this subsection is mixed. By median household income, six counties are in the top half of the state and two of them are in the top fifteen, with Polk ranking 7th (at $68,479) and Linn ranking 12th (at $64,878). Meanwhile two counties are in the bottom half with Black Hawk ranking 74th (at $52,320) and Jefferson having the third lowest in the state (at $46,715). Poverty appears to be a more substantial problem, though. While two counties (Winneshiek and Polk) rank in the bottom half of the state, most of the subsection is in the top half of the state for highest poverty. In fact, three counties rank in the top four for the highest poverty rate with Black Hawk (16.3 percent), Jefferson (16.3 percent), and Story (18.9 percent). Similar to poverty, this subsection also has issues with high unemployment. While Story had the eighth lowest unemployment rate in the state in August 2019 (at 1.6 percent), most of the counties are in the top half of the state for high unemployment; however, it should be noted that the rate isn’t as high as other parts of the country. Even in Scott, which had the subsection’s highest rate in August 2019, the unemployment rate was only 3.1 percent. Overall, this subsection performs alright, although there’s also a considerable amount of inequality.

As of Election Day, there have been 51,370 COVID cases in this subsection, setting the incidence rate at 4.1 percent (close to the state average). For the most part, the counties didn’t deviate too much from this rate, although Dubuque saw its incidence rate tick up to 6.2 percent. On the other hand, there have been 678 deaths in the subsection, setting the fatality rate to just 1.3 percent. Regarding timing, this subsection has seen a steady increase in cases as the months have gone on, with rises both in the summer months and again during the early fall months. And for unemployment, the impact has been slightly worse than the rest of the state, having gone from 3.6 percent in March to 12.4 percent in April. And while it has mostly recovered in the months since then, the unemployment rate was still at 5 percent as of September.

Finally, as of Election Day, there have been 112 BLM protests in this subsection. Over half of these protests occurred in Polk County (with 57), although Linn, Scott, and Black Hawk have also served as smaller hubs for activity. Conversely, there were only 6 protests in the three counties that President Trump won, despite these counties accounting for a considerable share of the subsection’s population. As stated above, there are considerable pockets of demographics that are susceptible to such protest activity. While there aren’t a considerable share of black residents, this population is complemented by pockets of other minority groups that hold some stake in BLM’s calls for addressing racial disparities. Not to mention the large share of college graduates and young adults, who account for 15.4 percent of the population.

Obama-Trump Counties

Allamakee (northeast corner, on Minnesota and Wisconsin borders)- Trump Hold

Biden- 2,576 (34.44 percent, down 0.53), Trump- 4,735 (63.31 percent, up 4.19)

OurProgress Projection- 44.07 for Biden (up 9.63), 55.93 for Trump (down 7.38)

Boone (Des Moines metropolitan area)- Trump Hold

Biden- 6,303 (40.87 percent, up 1.84), Trump- 8,695 (56.38 percent)

OurProgress Projection- 48.31 for Biden (up 7.44), 51.69 for Trump (down 4.69)

Bremer (Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area)- Trump Hold

Biden- 5,958 (40.73 percent, up 1.17), Trump- 8,294 (56.7 percent, up 3.46)

OurProgress Projection- 47.61 for Biden (up 6.88), 52.39 for Trump (down 4.31)

Buchanan (eastern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 4,169 (38.32 percent, down 0.4), Trump- 6,420 (59.01 percent, up 5.27)

OurProgress Projection- 49.53 for Biden (up 11.21), 52.39 for Trump (down 6.62)

Cedar (Cedar Rapids metropolitan area)- Trump Hold

Biden- 4,337 (40.3 percent, up 2.58), Trump- 6,161 (57.25 percent, up 1.75)

OurProgress Projection- 46.47 for Biden (up 6.17), 53.53 for Trump (down 3.72)

Cerro Gordo (northern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 10,941 (45.73 percent, up 2.78), Trump- 12,442 (52 percent, up 1.4)

OurProgress Projection- 51.64 for Biden (up 5.91), 48.36 for Trump (down 3.64)

Chickasaw (northeastern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 2,233 (33.45 percent, down 1.77), Trump- 4,308 (64.53 percent, up 6.38)

OurProgress Projection- 46.1 for Biden (up 12.65), 53.9 for Trump (down 10.63)

Clarke (southern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 1,466 (31.2 percent, down 1.69), Trump- 3,144 (66.92 percent, up 6.01)

OurProgress Projection- 42.21 for Biden (up 11.01), 57.79 for Trump (down 19.13)

Clayton (northeastern part of state, on Wisconsin border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 3,340 (34.65 percent, down 0.8), Trump- 6,106 (63.35 percent, up 5.11)

OurProgress Projection- 45.09 for Biden (up 10.44), 54.91 for Trump (down 8.44)

Clinton (Davenport metropolitan area, on Illinois border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 10,812 (43.58 percent, down 0.19), Trump- 13,361 (53.85 percent, up 4.97)

OurProgress Projection- 56.09 for Biden (up 12.51), 43.91 for Trump (down 9.94)

Des Moines (southeastern part of state, on Illinois border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 8,893 (44.28 percent, up 1.3), Trump- 10,592 (52.74 percent, up 2.86)

OurProgress Projection- 53.35 for Biden (up 9.07), 46.65 for Trump (down 6.09)

Dubuque (Dubuque city proper, on Illinois and Wisconsin borders)- Trump Hold

Biden- 25,657 (47.35 percent, up 1.39), Trump- 27,214 (50.22 percent, up 3.04)

OurProgress Projection- 54.32 for Biden (up 6.97), 45.68 for Trump (down 4.54)

Fayette (northeastern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 3,835 (37.42 percent, up 0.44), Trump- 6,145 (59.96 percent, up 3.62)

OurProgress Projection- 47.87 for Biden (up 7.45), 52.13 for Trump (down 7.83)

Floyd (northern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 3,172 (39.25 percent, down 0.19), Trump- 4,732 (58.56 percent, up 4.28)

OurProgress Projection- 50.4 for Biden (up 11.15), 49.6 for Trump (down 8.96)

Howard (northern part of state, on Minnesota border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 1,772 (35.47 percent, down 1.32), Trump- 3,127 (62.59 percent, up 5.32)

OurProgress Projection- 48.84 for Biden (up 13.37), 51.16 for Trump (down 11.43)

Jackson (eastern part of state, on Illinois border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 4,029 (35.89 percent, down 1.33), Trump- 6,940 (61.82 percent, up 5.33)

OurProgress Projection- 50.22 for Biden (up 14.33), 49.78 for Trump (down 12.04)

Jasper (Des Moines metropolitan area)- Trump Hold

Biden- 7,737 (38.13 percent, up 0.79), Trump- 12,084 (59.56 percent, up 4.08)

OurProgress Projection- 47.03 for Biden (up 8.9), 52.97 for Trump (down 6.59)

Jefferson (southeastern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 4,319 (47.94 percent, up 2.45), Trump- 4,443 (49.32 percent, up 3.36)

OurProgress Projection- 54.58 for Biden (up 6.64), 45.42 for Trump (down 3.9)

Jones (Cedar Rapids metropolitan area)- Trump Hold

Biden- 4,213 (38.1 percent, up 0.73), Trump- 6,572 (59.43 percent, up 2.98)

OurProgress Projection- 46.81 for Biden (up 8.71), 53.19 for Trump (down 6.24)

Lee (southeastern corner of state, on Illinois and Missouri border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 6,541 (38.87 percent, up 0.39), Trump- 9,773 (58.07 percent, up 3.57)

OurProgress Projection- 51.17 for Biden (up 12.3), 48.83 for Trump (down 9.24)

Louisa (southeastern part of state, on Illinois border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 1,726 (32.13 percent, down 0.78), Trump- 3,500 (65.15 percent, up 3.87)

OurProgress Projection- 42.1 for Biden (up 9.97), 57.9 for Trump (down 7.25)

Marshall (central part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 8,176 (44.75 percent, up 2.19), Trump- 9,571 (52.38 percent, up 1.52)

OurProgress Projection- 50.88 for Biden (up 6.13), 49.12 for Trump (down 3.26)

Mitchell (northern part of state, on Minnesota border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 2,053 (34.99 percent, up 0.14), Trump- 3,677 (62.67 percent, up 3.78)

OurProgress Projection- 44.36 for Biden (up 9.37), 55.64 for Trump (down 7.03)

Muscatine (Davenport metropolitan area, on Illinois border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 9,372 (45.04 percent, up 1.98), Trump- 10,823 (52.02 percent, up 2.7)

OurProgress Projection- 52.57 for Biden (up 7.53), 47.43 for Trump (down 4.59)

Poweshiek (central part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 4,306 (42.22 percent, down 1.55), Trump- 5,657 (55.47 percent, up 5.17)

OurProgress Projection- 50.74 for Biden (up 8.52), 49.26 for Trump (down 6.21)

Tama (central part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 3,577 (39.32 percent, up 2.8), Trump- 5,303 (58.29 percent, up 1.49)

OurProgress Projection- 46.48 for Biden (up 7.16), 53.52 for Trump (down 4.77)

Union (southern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 2,061 (33.18 percent, up 0.23), Trump- 4,010 (64.56 percent, up 4.12)

OurProgress Projection- 43.38 for Biden (up 10.2), 56.62 for Trump (down 7.94)

Wapello (southeastern part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 5,821 (36.99 percent, up 0.07), Trump- 9,516 (60.48 percent, up 2.95)

OurProgress Projection- 47.17 for Biden (up 10.18), 52.83 for Trump (down 7.65)

Webster (central part of state)- Trump Hold

Biden- 6,613 (36.83 percent, up 0.65), Trump- 10,938 (60.91 percent, up 3.22)

OurProgress Projection- 45.97 for Biden (up 9.14), 54.03 for Trump (down 6.88)

Winneshiek (northeastern part of state, on Minnesota border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 5,617 (46.25 percent, up 0.01), Trump- 6,235 (51.34 percent, up 4.3)

OurProgress Projection- 54.05 for Biden (up 7.8), 45.95 for Trump (down 5.39)

Woodbury (Sioux City proper, on Nebraska and South Dakota border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 18,704 (40.93 percent, up 3.85), Trump- 25,736 (56.32 percent, down 0.25)

OurProgress Projection- 46.41 for Biden (up 5.48), 53.59 for Trump (down 2.73)

Worth (northern part of state, on Minnesota border)- Trump Hold

Biden- 1,596 (35.98 percent, up 0.04), Trump- 2,738 (61.72 percent, up 4.1)

OurProgress Projection- 47.3 for Biden (up 11.32), 52.7 for Trump (down 9.02)

Next, there are a staggering 32 counties that flipped from President Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. As shown on the map, most of these are in the eastern half of the state and include rural counties, suburban counties, and even some urban counties (such as Dubuque). Historically, most of these counties became Democratic in 1988, following Ronald Reagan’s two landslide elections. Although many weren’t immune from at least one of George W. Bush’s campaigns, these places had generally voted Democratic more often than not before 2016.

In 2012, President Obama won all 32 counties with 54.5 percent of the vote and fourteen of these counties were classified as solidly Democratic following that election. Four years later, however, Clinton suffered massive losses across this subsection, only receiving 40 percent of the vote, translating to a net loss of 71,954 votes. On average, Clinton lost over 15 percent in each county compared to Obama and in three counties (Howard, Jackson, and Worth), she lost over 20 percent. Considering that this subsection accounted for 28 percent of the state’s electorate in 2016, losing it this badly proved costly.

Going into 2020, winning back this lost territory was a massive undertaking. Even so, the OurProgress model expected Biden to win twelve counties in this subsection, a modest figure, but a considerable improvement from 2016. In the end, however, he failed to win back any of them and only received 41.1 percent of the vote, a 1-point improvement from Clinton in 2016. On average, Biden only improved the Democratic vote share in each county by 0.5 percent and he underperformed Clinton in ten counties. Meanwhile, he only added 2 percent or more in ten counties with his largest improvement (in Woodbury) only amounting to 3.8 percent. Overall, the model overestimated Biden’s performance in many of these counties, which is a big reason why the state went from being a tossup to a more solid Trump victory.

Demographically, this subsection is more in line with the rest of Iowa. Only 7.2 percent of the population is nonwhite, 2.8 percent are black, and 7.1 percent is Hispanic. Some of these counties are more diverse than others. In four counties (Des Moines, Jefferson, Tama, and Woodbury), the nonwhite population is above 10 percent. Interesting, these four counties saw some of Biden’s strongest improvements from four years ago. For the most part, blacks are the main nonwhite group in these counties, although Jefferson has a sizable Asian American population. Meanwhile other counties (such as Clarke, Louisa, Marshall, and Muscatine) have substantial Hispanic populations. And regarding educational attainment, this subsection spans the entire spectrum of outcomes for the state. On one hand, Jefferson is ranked 8th in the state for concentration of college graduates (at 31.6 percent), Dubuque is ranked 10th (at 30.5 percent), Bremer is ranked 11th (at 30.3 percent), and Winneshiek is ranked 12th (at 29.7 percent). On the other hand, Louisa is ranked fourth from the bottom of the state (at just 14.2 percent) and Howard is ranked eighth from the bottom (at 14.9 percent).

Socioeconomically, this subsection spans the spectrum of economic outcomes. This shouldn’t be surprising, given the sheer size of the subsection. For median household income, Bremer is the highest in the subsection and the fourth highest in the state (at $74,646) and is joined by Cedar in the top ten (at $67,597). On the other end, Jefferson is the third lowest in the state (at $46,715) and is joined by Wapello (at $48,226), Lee (at $48,241), and Louisa (at $49,585) in the bottom ten of the state. Similarly for the poverty rate, Bremer has the lowest in the subsection and third lowest in the state (at just 6.6 percent) with Cedar joining it in the bottom ten (at 7.6 percent). On the other end, Jefferson has the third highest rate in the state (16.3 percent) and is joined by Wapello (14.7 percent) and Lee (14.6 percent) in the top ten of the state. And for unemployment, Mitchell had the third lowest unemployment rate in August 2019 at just 1.4 percent. And on the other end, Wapello (4.3 percent), Floyd (3.9 percent), Des Moines (3.7 percent), and Clinton (3.7 percent) comprised the top four highest rates in the state in August 2019.

As of Election Day, there have been 40,389 COVID cases in this subsection, setting the incidence rate at 4.5 percent (slightly above the state average). Some places such as Dubuque, Tama, and Woodbury saw their incidence rates rise above 6 percent; however, for the most part, the subsection saw fairly high incidence throughout. On the other hand, there have been 618 deaths, setting the fatality rate at 1.5 percent (slightly above the state average). Regarding timing, the subsection has seen an exponential increase in cases as the months have gone on, seeing larger increases in the summer months and additional spikes in the early fall months. Interestingly, some places saw dips in the summer months, including Muscatine, Tama, and Wapello; however, these trends were offset by large increases in other places, such as Dubuque. And economically, this subsection follows trends seen statewide, going from 4.2 percent unemployment in March to 11.1 percent in April. Six counties (Cerro Gordo, Clinton, Des Moines, Dubuque, Lee, and Worth) saw their unemployment rates increase by more than 8 percent during that time and Des Moines saw its rate get close to 15 percent. For the most, this subsection has recovered in the months since then, seeing its unemployment rate go down to just 4.3 percent by September.

Finally, as of Election Day, there have only been 34 BLM protests in this subsection with 10 occurring in Woodbury and many others only seeing a handful. In seventeen counties, there were no protests at all. These low numbers make sense, given that the demographic groups most likely to organize and participate in such events are underrepresented in this subsection. Although some counties have substantial shares of college graduates, there are relatively few black residents and young adults.

Reclassifications

As with the other states, there are a few reclassifications for counties based on how their voting behavior changed from 2016 to 2020. These changes are reflected below.

Dallas (Solidly Republican to Swing)

Cerro Gordo (Obama-Trump to Swing)

Linn (Swing to Solidly Democratic)

Muscatine (Obama-Trump to Swing)

Polk (Swing to Solidly Democratic)

Story (Swing to Solidly Democratic)

Most of these counties have already been discussed; however one addition is Dallas County, a suburb of Des Moines. This addition reflects Biden’s increased support among suburban voters. Other than that, these reclassifications indicate that Biden made at least some improvements following Trump’s wave performance in 2016. Even so, these reclassifications were not enough for Biden to be in a position to take back the state.

Conclusion

Similar to Ohio, I picked Iowa to go for President Trump in my prediction article written right before the election. A lot of that had to do with polls that had come out in the final few days that shifted the race in Trump’s favor, but even so, the projection models saw the race being closer than it actually ended up being.

In addition to Trump’s impressive ability to retain all the counties that he had flipped in 2016, one other factor that helped the President was Joni Ernst’s strong showing in the Senate race. This race was also expected to be close in the polls; however, Ernst ended up exceeding expectations and winning handily. A look at the exit polls indicate that Ernst enjoyed a slightly higher favorability rating than President Trump (51 percent vs 49 percent) and captured more voters that had an unfavorable view of her (11 percent vs 8 percent) than Trump did, while President Trump was able to capture more voters that had a favorable view of him (96 percent vs 91 percent). While one can argue that Ernst’s presence on the ballot elevated Trump, I’m more inclined to think that both of them benefitted from each other’s presence, given how tight both their races were going in.

Given its history of being able to swing to different parties over time without having the burden of upholding a half-century streak of picking the winner, it’s very possible that in future elections without Trump, Iowa could return to the Democrats. On the other hand, President Trump assembled a fairly loyal coalition in each of his elections that is highly advantageous for doing well in Iowa. While metropolitan, nonwhite, and college-educated voters increasing lean towards the Democrats in national elections, none of these elements are dominant electoral forces in Iowa. Meanwhile, Trump has shown an impressive ability to reel in rural and working class voters in Iowa, especially in the eastern half of the state. Similar to Ohio, whether Republicans have found a new advantage for this state moving forward will depend heavily on how tightly the Trump coalition can stick together without Trump on the ballot.

So that will do it for the fourth part in this series. If you enjoyed this, please like and follow the Book Aisle. Also share this article on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms.

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