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Rural-urban divide in Iowa sharp as ever

Politics in Iowa Web (1)

By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.

One of the big questions coming into election night was whether Democrats would be able to restore their ability to reach out to voters in more rural parts of the state. Recall that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won just six counties (Black Hawk, Johnson, Linn, Polk, Scott, and Story), compared to 37 in 2012 and 52 in 2008 for Barack Obama.

So how does this compare to 2020?

As it turns out, Joe Biden repeated the pattern set by Clinton four years ago, winning only those six counties, albeit by greater margins.

Turning to the U.S. Senate race in Iowa, the same pattern emerges. The only exception is that Democrat Theresa Greenfield, in addition to winning those six counties, also won Jefferson and Cerro Gordo.

This pattern continues across the board.

In the Third Congressional District, 2020 was a repeat of 2018, with Congresswoman Axne winning the seat despite only winning Polk County. In the First and Second Congressional Districts, countywide victories for the Democratic candidates were limited to Black Hawk, Dubuque, and Linn (CD1), and Clinton, Jefferson, Johnson, and Scott (CD2).

In the Iowa Senate, with the loss of Rich Taylor in District 42, all 18 seats Democrats now hold are located in urban counties (Black Hawk, Cerro Gordo, Dubuque, Johnson, Linn, Polk, Polk/Dallas, Scott, Story, and Woodbury), while in the Iowa House, just five of the now 41 Democratic seats are located outside one of those counties (29-Jasper; 52-Floyd; 71-Marhsall; 87-Des Moines; 98-Clinton).

Including the 2018 gubernatorial election where Democrat Fred Hubbell won just 11 counties, this represents three straight election cycles where the sorting of electoral representation from Democrats and Republicans continues to be divided sharply along rural and urban lines.

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