Iowa Political Shifts Linked to Farming

Over the past 100 years, Iowa has transformed from a rock-ribbed Republican enclave into an increasingly reliable blue state. While some of this transformation can be linked to demographic shifts, it is also connected to the overall strength of the farm sector.

From the Civil War to the late 1980s, Iowa voted Republican in all but five presidential elections. In the last seven presidential elections, however, the state has voted Democrat, leading some political experts to wonder what has caused the abrupt partisan shift.

In part, the changing voting pattern is linked to shifting demographics. As Iowa becomes increasingly urbanized and as populations shift away from rural areas, the state leans more Democratic. The same situation is occurring across the country as farm populations shrink and urban voters gain more political power (in Virginia, for example, the rise of northern suburbs has eclipsed some of the power of rural communities, turning the reliably red state into a swing state).

Another element of the change is the increasingly active role of the federal government in farm affairs. During the Great Depression, some scholars have argued, the government’s willingness to offer farm subsidies and support federal farm programs made many Iowans more receptive to voting Democrat (this same trend can be seen in several Great Plains states where Republican congressmen running for office were linked to the failure of the House GOP to pass a new farm bill).

While these partisan shifts may be temporary, they remain a major bellwether for future candidates and for national political parties.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer