Thursday, January 28, 2016

How important are rural voters in the Iowa caucuses?

This story in today's New York Times suggests rural voters in Iowa really matter.   "Rural Voters can Swing the Iowa Caucuses.  Meet Five of Them" is the headline.  Here's the lede:
There is a surprising diversity in the physical as well as the political landscape of Iowa’s rural areas, which make up more than three-quarters of the state’s 99 counties and are home to 40 percent of its population.

It’s not all flat farmland. The “driftless area” in the northeastern part of the state, which avoided advancing glaciers thousands of years ago, boasts deep river valleys and towering, tree-covered bluffs.

And it’s not all conservative.
There is a lot of texture to this story, and it is well worth a read in its entirety (some great photos, too!)  Here are some key quotes that shed light on the realities of rurality in relation to the political process (and otherwise):
And rural Iowans, who may caucus with just a handful of their neighbors on Feb. 1, take their responsibility just as seriously.
Rural Iowans can swing the state. 
In the 2012 Republican race, half of Iowa’s counties had fewer than 600 voters caucus, with some caucus sites hosting as few as three people. 
And it was the margins in those counties’ tiny precincts that ultimately delivered the victory to Rick Santorum over Mitt Romney.
* * * 
Party leaders in rural areas are well aware of the power they hold, whether they vote as a bloc to tip the result in one direction or provide just enough support to cut into a candidate’s margins from the bigger cities.
* * * 
Caucusing, especially in rural areas, requires a higher level of commitment.  
And a few more great blurbs and headlines about the relevance of rurality to the Iowa caucuses and to the political process more generally:
Rural politics are uniquely personal.

Party leaders will tell you that political organizing in rural areas isn’t the same as in the cities. It’s a much more personal experience to share your political beliefs with the people you see at the grocery store or at church every week. 
The caucuses themselves are not designed for anonymity.
And here is a quote from 30-year-old Ryan Frederick, chairman of the Adair County Republicans:
I think as far as farmers are concerned and rural small-business people, we’re tuned in to an extent because we know how involved the government’s become in our business. It’s important to recognize that regulations almost always hurt the little guy. And in rural areas, that’s all there is, is little guys.
Whether rural voters matter not just in Iowa, but over the long haul of the presidential election, remains to be seen.  I'm not convinced that they do ...  though I do agree that not all rural Americans are conservative and we need to stop assuming they are.  For more on the politics of the rural vote and national assumptions about it, don't miss my 2011 law review article here.

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