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Iowa leans toward Democrats in recent years

Published: Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 11:38 a.m. CDT

CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) — Iowa voters used to consistently support Republican presidential candidates, but ever since the late 1980s the state has been leading toward Democrats.

The Gazette in Cedar Rapids reported that Iowans chose Democratic candidates in six of the last seven races. But Iowa supported Republicans in all but five elections between the Civil War and 1988.

Experts say the voting shift is a reflection of the changing demographics of Iowa. The state is becoming more urban and its residents are better educated.

But that doesn’t mean Iowa is destined to become a solid blue state, because the state’s demographics might shift again and Republicans could find new ways to appeal to Iowans.

Historian Tom Morain says the roots of Iowa’s shift to supporting Democrats began roughly 80 years ago with widespread acceptance of federal farm programs during the Great Depression and Democrat Harold Hughes’ elections as governor and U.S. senator.

University of Iowa political scientist Tim 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 that 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.

But none of that makes Iowa a permanently blue state. Republican 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,” King said.

And Iowa will continue to have a significant political impact as long as it holds the first caucus in the nation.

“If we can hold that together, we can long make recommendations on Iowa values to the rest of the country,” he said.

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