Our tour of the 99 counties of Iowa starts in Adams County

First in a planned 99-part series by guest author DMNATIVE. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I am starting our tour with our smallest county in terms of population, Adams County. The 2010 census found 4,029 people living in the entire 426 square miles that are within Adams County. Adams county is located south and west of Des Moines. According to Google Maps, the county seat of Adams County, Corning, is 94.7 road miles from the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines. Adams county was founded in 1853 when it was split from Pottawattamie County, and was further reduced in size when Union and Montgomery County were established.

The highest population in the county was 13,601 in the 1900 census. Adams county has lost population in every census since that time. The racial composition of the county in the 2010 census was 98.1 percent white, 0.6 percent Asian, 0.5 percent American Indian, 0.2 percent black or African American, 0.1 percent from other races, and 0.5 percent from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 0.9 percent of the population. An extremely non-diverse county in terms of race.

12.2 percent of the population live in households with income at or below the poverty level. The per capita income was estimated at $23,549, which ranks 23rd of 99 in counties in Iowa. Adams county had the 15th lowest unemployment rate in 2010. (As of November 2016, the unemployment rate was 2.1 percent.) In terms of educational attainment, Adams county has the 5th lowest rate of residents having received a bachelors degree or higher, 13.4 percent.

Adams County is currently a part of the 3rd congressional district, represented by David Young-R since 2015. Currently Adams county is a part of the 11th District in the Iowa Senate represented by Tom Shipley-R and part of the 21st District in the Iowa House of Representatives represented by Tom Moore-R.

2016 Elections Results


Trump 1,325 (62.18%) Clinton 565 (26.51%) Others 171 (8.02%)

US Senate

Grassley 1,515 (71.09%) Judge 454 (21.30%) Others 162 (7.61%)

US House

Young 1448 (67.95%) Mowrer 476 (22.33%) Other 207 (9.72%)

Iowa Senate- No Race
Iowa House- Moore (unopposed)

Since 1960, the Republican Nominee has carried Adams County 9 times and the Democratic Nominee 6 times, as recently as 2008. Romney carried Adams county in 2012 by only 3 percent while Trump won in 2016 with a 36 percent advantage!

The Adams county Board of Supervisors has a 4-1 Republican Majority
Democrats hold the office of County Treasurer
Republicans hold the offices of County Auditor, County Recorder, and County Sheriff

While Adams County was an electoral disaster for Democrats in 2016, at the presidential level it has been competitive as recently as 2012. Many 2016 election post mortems have pointed out the disastrous (for Democrats) collapse of support in rural areas that have little demographic diversity. Adams County is an almost perfect example of this problem. Democrats cannot expect to find electoral success when losing counties by 36 percent in Presidential elections, 50 percent in Senate elections, 46 percent in US House elections, and definitely not by failing to have a candidate for Iowa House.

Next week: Ringgold County

Sources: Iowa State University Iowa Community Indicators Program, Wikipedia, Dave Leip’s Atlas of Presidential Elections, Iowan Official Register (The Redbook).

About the Author(s)


  • Adams County Identity

    I have to admit I’m disappointed with this post. It was filled with numbers and facts, but completely ignored the identity of Adams County. It seems to me that if we want to be able to connect with rural voters, we need to not only have information about them, but try to understand the unique identity of each county. As someone whose family has been in Adams County for five generations, I feel like this ignored the essence of Adams County.

    Did you know that Adams County was the site of the Icarian Colony, a utopian community of French settlers? Corning has a museum dedicated to its Icarian history and locals even wrote and performed a musical about it.

    Did you know that Corning recently renovated its historic Opera House, which is now home to many community events and performances, as well as being a point of unity for this proud town?

    Did you know that Corning is home to a growing arts community and that places like the Corning Center for the Fine Arts offer both a place for current artists to exhibit their work and a place to offer arts education to the community?

    Did you know that the Adams County Speedway has been around since at least 1937, when it was home to horse races, and is now one of the state’s best dirt tracks is a source of community pride and draws in business from surrounding communities?

    Did you know that POET Biorefining in Brooks turns 23 million bushels of locally-grown corn into 65 million gallons of ethanol every year and employs 40 people?

    Did you know that the tallest land-based wind turbine in the country is located in Adams County?

    These are the types of things that matter about Adams County. In order to not only win the votes of people in Adams County, but to actually represent them, we need to understand them. Demographics and statistics don’t help us understand them.

    Only once we understand a community can understand how policy affects them. For example, rural broadband expansion could help Corning attract more artists who can have a good quality of life with a low cost of living while being able to market their art online. Energy policy that affects the cost effectiveness of investment in renewable energy threatens the economic benefits of renewable energy in Adams County, both in the form of steady lease payments to farmers and new jobs maintaining turbines.

    The things that matter about places like Adams County aren’t things you can learn by looking them up online. The things that matter are things you need to learn by spending time there.

    • point taken, but

      This is an author (with a job and a life) volunteering to write 99 county profiles over the next two years. Not realistic to expect s/he will be able to spend real time in every county before writing each weekly post.

      I would welcome a guest post by you, covering much more about the history and people of Adams County, if you’d be willing to take what you’ve written in this comment and create a separate post (using the “write a post” link near the upper right).

      • Offer accepted

        I’ll take you up on that suggestion to write a post. Maybe for some of the other counties there could also be a companion post from someone in the county. A combination of statics and experience seems like a good combination.

    • Have to start somewhere

      There is no way that I’m going to be able to be able to go into that amount of cultural depth for each county, nor is that my intent. This is meant to be a statistical look at these counties, mostly from a political perspective. To perhaps shake up some perceptions that some may have that a mild tinkering is going to reverse the current disastrous course our party in on in Iowa.

      Before we can start to “fix” the problems that caused the 2016 meltdown, I think we need facts as well as perceptions. My impression is that this is a county with an OK economic profile, but it is very very white, low in educational attainment, and is totally dominated at this point by the Republicans, even though as recently as 4 years ago it was competitive at the presidential level. My belief is that there are more than a few of us who live in a bubble where we have no idea how dominant the GOP is in the rural parts of the state. And we can’t ignore margins like those in Adams county to be repeated in the 85 ish counties where I’m guessing I’m going to find similar statistics and ever expect to be in the majority of the Iowa Legislature or ever expect to see a Democrat living in Terrace Hill.

      • Completing the story

        I certainly agree that we need to get across the idea that “tinkering” will not suffice. And while statistics help, my feeling is that they don’t tell the whole story.

        But I think I’ll take @desmoinesdem up on the suggestion to write a post. Having both the statistics and more background seems like a good combination.

  • Another source

    As a numbers guy, I think the statistical overview is great. And I think local color – from Anna in this case, and hopefully future volunteers – adds important color to the statistical outlines. Thanks to all for volunteering for that hard work.

    But let me suggest another approach to add dimension to the political interests, needs, and views of a county: the platform process. Long ago in a political galaxy far away, I had been working on targeting for campaigns and got a seat on state platform committee. I remember being fascinated pouring over the county by county recommended planks – looking at the differences, and thinking about how candidates could use that information to target messages to counties. To my knowledge, there has never been a systematic effort to use that information for that purpose — some of the planks make it into the state platform, the rest die, and all that data is filed away at best (more likely thrown away). Maybe times have changed – maybe planks are so externally driven that the data wouldn’t mean as much. But I always thought that information about what issues were resonant in a particular county was horribly underutilized.

    • Good source

      That seems like a really good source. And it would quickly identify some of the regional differences within the state that don’t show up in the demographics.

    • Go for it! Knock yourself out!

      Who has access to those documents? And time to collect them and sort through them. And being a social science researcher, I would suggest you would need to have a thematic analysis to detect patterns. And you have to realize that those planks often written by single interest individuals who happen to be persistent enough to wear out a platform committee.
      What we need are a few macro level concepts that quickly establish what the party stands for. The other sides’ concepts are absolutely evil, but everyone knows what they are…lower taxes…less government…pro life…pro business. Of course it’s total BS and they give lip service to most of it…but it is effective!

      If anyone wants to expand each of my profile with more local knowledge, I’m all for adding to the depth of the discussion. Stimulating discussion like this was one of my motivations for doing this series.

  • Thanks to annaryon

    for posting her “deep dive” into Adams County history and culture.