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Examining Iowa’s political leanings

5 min read


Iowa is a key swing state in the presidential election. With six electoral votes up for grabs — one fewer than in the 2008 election because of a population shift — it is an important state for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to win. Since 1988, the state has voted Democrat in every presidential election except in 2004. Analysts aren’t sure what will happen this time, as polls show it is too close to call.

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

General population statistics

The Hawkeye State has slightly more than 3 million people. Its population is one of the least diverse of the U.S. Esri developed an index that measures diversity in an area. The index for Iowa is 23.3, meaning there is a 23.3 probability that two people randomly chosen from the same area belong to a different race or ethnic group. This compares with the U.S. index of 61. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of Hispanics is low in Iowa; 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 and U.S. Census Bureau

Iowa residents are more conservative overall than the average American. Esri, the world leader in geographic-information systems, provides market-potential data that include the Market Potential Index. The index measures the probability that adults or households in a specific area will exhibit certain consumer behavior compared with the U.S. 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 and 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 the 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

Click on image for larger view.

Where people live in Iowa seems to somewhat sway their political leanings. There are 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, which is in Iowa City. The index for someone who considers himself very liberal is 242, meaning the person is 2.42 times more likely to consider himself more liberal than the average American. For Republicans, the most conservative ZIP code is 51460, which is in Ricketts, a small town in western Iowa. The index for someone there considering himself very conservative is 214, meaning the person is 2.14 times more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative. There are many areas in the state, though, where a significant number of people consider themselves very conservative.

Tapestry Segmentation classifies Iowa voters

Esri also developed the Tapestry Segmentation system, which classifies U.S. residential neighborhoods into 65 unique market segments based on socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. The top segments for Iowa:

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 such households are composed of married couples. Their median age is 42.9. Of residents, 1 in 4 is self-employed. Agricultural jobs are part of the local economy, but 40% of residents work 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, just below the U.S. median, and the median household income is $42,337. Half of employed residents work white-collar jobs. Many work in the service industry.

Map of Iowa by Tapestry Segmentation

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One key factor in the election is unemployment. This has varied by state. When Obama was sworn in as president in January 2009, Iowa had an unemployment rate of 6.1%, compared with 7.8% nationally. In July 2012, the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa’s number had decreased to 5.3%, compared with 8.1% nationally. Of course, each county varies based on its individual situation.

Iowa unemployment change: January 2009 to July 2012

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Most counties in Iowa have a lower unemployment rate than when Obama took office. Some had a drop of more than 5%. Hancock and Allamakee counties had the biggest decrease. Each had a drop of 7.3% between January 2009 and July 2012. Both counties have a relatively small population, so even a small increase in employment has a large effect. Both counties had about the same size labor force but saw an increase in the number employed. The county with the largest increase in unemployment was Hamilton County, with 0.5%.

Why does this matter?

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

More information about Esri’s data can be found at To learn more about Esri in general, go to

Pam Allison is a consultant in digital media, marketing strategy and location intelligence. Visit her blog at