Examining Iowa’s Political Leanings

This was originally posted at http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/09/24/examining-iowas-political-leanings/.

Iowa is one of the key swing states in the upcoming presidential election.  With 6 electoral votes up for grabs (one less from the 2008 election due to population shifts), it is an important state for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to win.   Since 1988, the state has voted Democrat in every presidential election except in 2004.  Analysts aren’t too sure what will happen this time as the polls show it is too close to call.

The map and data below tell the story of the demographic and political makeup of the Iowa voters prior to the election.  What will sway the voters in this state?  What do we know about them?  We’ll be sure to check back after Nov. 6 to see what the election results reveal.

General Population Statistics

Iowa, also known as “The Hawkeye State” has a population of just over 3 million people.  Its population is one of the least diverse states.  Esri has developed a diversity index which measures the amount of diversity in an area.  The Diversity Index for Iowa is 23.3 meaning that there is a 23.3 probability that two people randomly chosen from the same area would belong to a different race or ethnic group. This compares to a US diversity index of 61.  Not surprisingly, the percentage of Hispanics is very low in the state.  Only 5.1% of residents identify themselves as Hispanic.

Here are some key demographic statistics about Iowa:




Median Age



% Male / % Female



Median Household Income



% Hispanic Population



Median Home Value



Sources: Esri Updated Demographics 2011/2016, US Census

The residents of Iowa are more conservative overall than the average American.  Esri, the world’s leader in geographic information systems (GIS), provides Market Potential data that includes a Market Potential Index (MPI). The Index measures the probability that adults or households in a specific area will exhibit certain consumer behaviors compared to the US average. The index is tabulated to represent a value of 100 as the overall demand for the U.S.

Market Potential Variable


Consider self very conservative


Consider self somewhat conservative


Consider self middle of the road


Consider self somewhat liberal


Consider self very liberal


Sources: Esri GfK MRI

A resident of Iowa is 12% more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative and 9% more likely to consider himself somewhat conservative.  A resident of Iowa is 16% less likely than average American to consider himself somewhat liberal and 17% less likely than the average American to consider himself very liberal.

Iowa Politics Market Potential Index

Where people live in Iowa does seem to somewhat sway their political leanings – a least a bit.   There are very few areas with liberal – or even middle-of-the-road leanings.  For Democrats, it is important to know that the ZIP Code with the highest likelihood of very liberal voters is 52242 – located in Iowa City.  The index for someone who considers themselves very liberal is 242 – meaning a resident there is 2.42 times more likely to consider themselves more liberal than the average American.  For Republicans, the most conservative zip code is 51460 – located in Ricketts, a small town in Western Iowa.  The index for considering themselves very conservative there is 214 meaning a resident is 2.14 times more likely than the average American to consider themselves very conservative.  There are many areas around the state, though, where a significant amount of people consider themselves very conservative.

Tapestry Segmentation Classifies Iowa Voters

Esri also developed the Tapestry Segmentation system that classifies US residential neighborhoods into 65 unique market segments based on socioeconomic and demographic characteristics.  The top Tapestry segments for the State of Iowa are:

Tapestry Segment

% Adults

Prairie Living


Rustbelt Traditions


Heartland Communities


Salt of the Earth


Midlife Junction



Prairie Living neighborhoods are dominated by small, family-owned farms in the Midwest.  Two-thirds of these households are composed of married couples.  Their median age is 42.9 years.  One in four residents is self-employed.  Agricultural jobs are part of the local economy but 40 percent of the residents work in white-collar jobs.  Rustbelt Traditions neighborhoods are primarily a mix of married-couple families, single parents, and singles who live alone.  The median age is 35.9 years, just below the US media nand median household income is $42,337. Half of the employed residents work in white-collar jobs. Many work in the service industry.

Map of Iowa by Tapestry Segmentation


One key factor in the upcoming election is unemployment.   This has varied by state.  When Barack Obama was sworn in as US President in January 2009 Iowa had an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent compared to 7.8 percent nationally.  In July 2012 (the latest figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) that number had decreased to 5.3 percent compared to 8.1 percent nationally.  Of course, each county in the state varies based on their individual situations.

Iowa Unemployment Change – January 2009 – July 2012

Most counties in Iowa have lower unemployment rates now than when Obama took over as president.   Some had drops of more than 5 percent.  The counties with the biggest decrease in unemployment were Hancock County and Allamakee County.  Each of these counties had drops of 7.3 percent between January 2009 and July 2012.  Both of these counties have relatively small populations, so even a small increase in employment could have a large effect.  Both of these counties have about the same sized labor force in this time period but an increase in the number of employed. The county with the largest increase in unemployment was Hamilton County with an increase of 0.5 percent.

Why Does This Matter?

Understanding the types of people who live in Iowa can help Barack Obama and Mitt Romney target their campaigns and even messaging.  Knowing what the local issues are, what the demographic make-up of an area is, what the political leanings are of an area, or knowing what types of activities they participate in can help them find their supporters – at a very local level – and help them be in a better position win an election.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at www.esri.com/data or to learn more about Esri in general, go to www.esri.com.

Pam Allison is a digital media, marketing strategist, and location intelligence consultant.  You can visit her blog at www.pamallison.com.

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