DES MOINES, Iowa — When an election brings results not seen in Iowa since Chuck
Grassley got elected to office, that tells you its impact. “This is going to be tough terrain for Democrats moving forward,” said Dr. Peter Hanson, associate political science professor at Grinnell College and director of the Grinnell College National Poll.
The 2022 election results mean that Iowans have chosen Republicans as governor, both U.S. senators and all members of the U.S. house for the first time since the 1954 election (by the way, Grassley got elected for the first time as a state representative in 1958).
Hanson said that Republicans have built a strong following in Iowa, particularly among white, non-college-educated voters and rural residents.
Many younger people, especially college-educated, have left Iowa’s rural areas and moved to larger cities where Hanson said that Democrats have found more strength.
That demographic shift is just one factor that’s allowed Iowa Republican candidates to do better over the past decade. The state’s population is older and very slow growing (the slowest in the country in the 1900s), again, a demographic more inclined to vote Republican.
Younger people who don’t move to larger Iowa cities like Des Moines leave the state entirely (“brain drain”), which further erodes potential Democratic support.
Then, as Hanson points out, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts for Democrats. Democratic-aligned national groups largely didn’t support Iowa Democratic candidates (except for U.S. Representative Cindy Axne’s failed re-election effort in the state’s Third Congressional District where she lost in a close race). Democratic candidates then didn’t fare well on election night this year. So that could make outside groups hesitant in 2024, which could again limit Democrats’ chances for success.
“They can still win,” Hanson said, “but it’s going to be hard for them. And they’re going to have to put resources into those races.”
Democrats will have to do a better job connecting on the issues where Republicans have found success lately: the economy, what students are learning in schools and cultural issues.
Two Democratic candidates who won on election night — state Senator Sarah Trone Garriott of West Des Moines who defeated Senate GOP President Jake Chapman in Adel in a close race and state Senator-Elect Izaah Knox who won comfortably in a Des Moines Democratic district — said that their party needs to do a much better job spending time in communities with people to listen, share ideas and explain their vision for the future.