Democratic declines in key counties: A turnout or persuasion problem?

Twelfth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

One of the hottest debates in Democratic activist circles relates to strategy for winning statewide and national elections. Does the party need to fix a base turnout problem by nominating contenders who will inspire passionate support among progressives? Or is the more urgent task appealing to voters who used to back Democrats, but lately have favored Republican candidates?

This post doesn’t claim to settle that argument, but searches for clues in the results and turnout rates from key Iowa counties where Fred Hubbell underperformed in his bid to unseat Governor Kim Reynolds.

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Lessons of 2018: Three keys to Abby Finkenauer's win in IA-01

Tenth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

Abby Finkenauer’s triumph over two-term U.S. Representative Rod Blum in the first Congressional district was one of this year’s most satisfying wins for Iowa Democrats.

The outcome wasn’t unexpected; leading forecasters saw IA-01 as a “lean Democratic” district for two months. Even so, the pick-up was hardly a given. Iowans tend to re-elect incumbents. Some of the 20 counties in IA-01 experienced the state’s biggest swings toward Republicans in 2016, and Blum ran about 5 points better than Donald Trump did in his district. Last month, Blum and his allies had claimed the incumbent was gaining on Finkenauer in internal polling.

But Blum’s campaign strategy–an aggressive mix of race-baiting television commercials, taxpayer-funded mailings that resembled electioneering, and Trump-like petty shots at journalists–couldn’t deliver the goods. Finkenauer received 170,342 votes to 153,442 for the incumbent (51.0 percent to 45.9 percent), according to official results.

Let’s take a closer look at how the second-youngest woman ever elected to Congress (after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York) assembled that margin of victory.

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Lessons of 2018: Changing trends in Iowa's largest counties

Eighth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

Last week, Bleeding Heartland examined votes for governor in counties containing Iowa’s mid-sized cities, which collectively accounted for roughly 15 percent of Iowans who participated in this year’s election.

Today’s focus is ten counties where more than half of this year’s Iowa voters live. Whereas Fred Hubbell underperformed in all seventeen “micropolitan” areas, the results in larger counties were a mixed bag for the Democratic nominee.

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Lessons of 2018: Fred Hubbell outperformed Cindy Axne in IA-03

Sixth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

Cindy Axne beat two-term U.S. Representative David Young in Iowa’s third Congressional district, while Fred Hubbell lost to Governor Kim Reynolds. So Axne must have done better than Hubbell, right?

Wrong.

Hubbell received more votes than Axne in each of IA-03’s sixteen counties, according to unofficial results. And contrary to what the red and blue counties above might lead you to believe, Hubbell outpolled Reynolds in the third Congressional district as a whole.

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Breaking: Iowa's electorate is still old

Nearly three-quarters of Iowans who cast ballots in the June 5 primary were at least 50 years old, while only 12 percent were under age 35, a statewide statistical report shows.

Seven in ten Iowa Democratic primary voters this year were over age 50, while only one in seven who cast ballots were under 35.

Several well-funded Democratic candidates for governor or Congress devoted resources to engaging younger voters this year, which helped bring more millennials to the polls. But because turnout was high for all age groups compared to the party’s 2016 primary, older voters still dominated the electorate.

The new figures are a reminder to activists: while outreach to every cohort is important, our state simply doesn’t have enough young people to determine the outcome of a midterm election.

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