Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Changes in Iowa's population and economy in the midst of a Senate race

The New York Times published an article yesterday entitled "With Farms Fading and Urban Might Rising, Power Shifts in Iowa." The article discusses how rural life in Iowa is changing as the state's youth and young adults are moving in hordes to bigger cities such as Des Moines. Indeed, between 2000 and 2013, Iowa's urban population grew by 13.3 percent, while the population in non-urban areas fell by 3.6 percent. This population gap between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas in Iowa is larger than other states in the Midwest.

Moreover, as the title of the New York Times article suggests, Iowa's economy is changing. For example, Des Moines is now home to around 20 startup technology companies that have set up shop across a few blocks of Sixth Avenue in the city's downtown area. This particular stretch of Sixth Avenue is now known as "Silicon Sixth," and recently hosted one of four Startup Weekends in Iowa, where businesspeople and technology experts are invited to participate in a conference on business building. Even as Des Moines becomes increasingly "happening," as one young Iowan stated, Iowa's rural areas are struggling to adjust to population losses. For example, Pocahontas is a small town in north-eastern Iowa with a population of 1,757, down from 1,956 in 2000 and 2,144 in 1990. Consistent with this steady decrease in overall population, Pocahontas's public school enrollment has decreased by 32 percent in the last ten years, forcing schools and sports teams to consolidate.

However, despite the population shift from rural to urban areas and the changing nature of Iowa's economy, the current political climate suggests that Iowans still hold rural values dear. One of Iowa's United States Senators, Tom Harkin, announced in January that he would not be running for re-election, leading to a Senate race that has come down to Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley. Ernst has largely appealed to Iowa's conservative base with ads that align with conservative values and a rural way of life. For example, one of her ads states:
I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.
Joni Ernst. Mother. Soldier. Conservative.
Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal.
You can read more about Ernst's attention-getting ad and opinions on it here. Meanwhile, Braley, who has been advocating a more urban-focused agenda, appears to have won the disfavor of much of Iowa's rural population by criticizing Iowa's current Republican Senator, Chuck Grassley, as a "farmer from Iowa who never went to law school." Indeed, a poll in September demonstrated that Ernst established a 4-to-1 advantage over Braley among the rural voting population. However, an October poll shows that, among Iowa's overall voting population, Ernst leads Braley by only one percentage point.

Of course, this Senate race is taking place against the backdrop of Iowa's shifting population and changing economic climate. With the significant migration of rural Iowans to metropolitan areas of the state, and the increasingly modern and technological character of cities like Des Moines, it will be interesting to see how the Senate race plays out. The state's current political climate appears to highlight Iowa's rural-urban divide. Will the swing-state elect a more conservative candidate that appeals to rural values, or is Braley's urban-friendly agenda more likely to win out in light of the changes in Iowa's population and economy?


Enrique Fernandez said...

This is a very post. I'm a huge fan of swing state politics.

It's great that you were able to showcase the migration of young people to urban areas. While I spent time in rural Iowa, in 2012, I was told by many of the natives that the younger generations were flocking to the urban areas or out of state and not returning.

Also, something to be noted is that the overall average age of Iowa's population is increasing. I also believe that Iowa's population is only projected to increase by 1% by 2030.

Charlie said...

I think this is a very insightful post. I still remember, back in spring of 2008, I was a high school senior, and I was following Barack Obama's rise to the top. Before the Democratic Party selected its candidate for the November election, Obama, Hillary, and John Edwards were the top contenders. It was interesting that Obama won the Democratic primary in Iowa. Out of all places, Iowa?

Your post provides some valuable insight into the politics in Iowa, and perhaps how Obama won that state in the primary election. Perhaps the younger population that was moving in to urban areas aligned themselves more with Obama, who was much younger and newer to Washington than Hillary.

David Gomez said...

This post fits nicely with Juliana’s post above on the sharp partisan divides between rural and urban counties. I found the part about Hispanics and voting the most interesting. The Hispanic population in Iowa is increasing, but it does not show in the polls. It will be interesting to see how the urbanization of Iowa and its new economy will effect this election.

For more evidence about Iowa’s changing demographics see this article on National Journal. I read this a few weeks ago and was instantly reminded of it when I read your post. Apparently Des Moines is the next epicenter for hipsters.

Link: http://www.nationaljournal.com/next-america/population-2043/do-the-most-hipster-thing-possible-move-to-des-moines-20141016

Moona said...

This post brings up a lot of good points. I would be interested to know how the younger, hipper residents of Des Moines feel about the democratic candidate, Bruce Braley. I can see how his comment about the current senator being “nothing but a farmer who never went to law school” would be off-putting to many residents in the more rural areas of Iowa who may also be farmers and who likely have not been to law school either. I wonder, however, if this type of thinking might resonate more with the younger, more educated crowd in Des Moines.