50-State Strategy: Iowa
Power-building strategy: Rebuild with non-college white voters.
In the Senate section of the 2040 Project we give an overview of the demographics of battleground states, and Iowa has the distinction of having the second largest population of non-college white voters (after West Virginia).
Collapse in support from this key population in recent elections has caused this once-battleground state to take a hard-right turn. In 2020, Democrats were not able to secure a statewide win and lost two congressional seats. In the legislature, Democrats saw no net gain in the State Senate, and in the State House (identified as a top flip opportunity) we instead saw a six-seat net loss.
In EveryDistrict’s 2019 Purple States Report we created comprehensive demographic profiles for every competitive state legislative district. We identified 20 potential State House flip districts, all of which were over 90% white. Only three of those districts were majority college-educated, one of which was the one State House district Democrats flipped in 2020 (HD 67).
While some might be willing to give up on Iowa, we’re not ready to cede this state that voted for Barack Obama twice to Republicans in perpetuity. But to move forward, we’re going to have to re-tool our strategy in the state and home in on a message that resonates with persuadable voters.
In our 2040 Project, we argue that Democrats need a new approach to elections instead of the top-down, candidate-centric approach we have right now. Instead, we argue that we need to build from the bottom up and focus in on the battleground state legislative districts that will make or break a majority.
Our strategy differs from other organizing currently happening in battleground states in several key ways. First, this organizing needs to happen on the “hard side” — coordinated in a way that it can plug into campaign infrastructure during the periods where campaigning is in full swing. Right now, many of the large-scale organizing efforts on the Democratic and progressive side are run as “independent expenditures,” meaning they can’t coordinate with candidates. We need to organize, reach out, and listen to voters’ concerns in a way that candidates can then turn that information into a messaging framework that responds to those concerns.
Second, most organizing campaigns are focused on statewide races and don’t take into account the unique state legislative geography within each state. As we at EveryDistrict have talked about consistently the past four years, a successful statewide strategy in purple states looks very different from a majority-making state legislative strategy. Organizers need to be embedded specifically within the “purple” state legislative districts that will be necessary to win to win majorities.
Third, this work needs to be done by local organizers who know their communities best. Those efforts need to be cultivated and funded in sustainable ways so that this crucial organizing element can happen year round.
We firmly believe that this type of “bottom up” strategy will pay dividends for candidates up and down the ballot. If we can build a winning Democratic coalition in the “purple” state legislative districts, then we’ve turned a state blue.
This strategy was most successfully implemented in Virginia in 2017, where energetic House of Delegate campaigns clinched the gubernatorial election in a race most pundits and pollsters expected to be close. This year in Virginia, EveryDistrict is putting this strategy into action again, investing in on-the-ground organizing to help candidates hone their message and implement data-driven outreach strategies to ensure Virginia remains blue.
How you can advance a 50-state strategy in Iowa:
- Democrats need to invest in continued messaging, polling, and organizing targeted in districts where we have seen continued growth and where we need to build back. Beginning in Virginia in 2021 and expanding to other battleground states in 2022, EveryDistrict’s Win Number program will do exactly that by deploying the latest in election science to identify how we can win more conservative college-educated voters, rebuild with non-college white voters, and develop a message that resonates with rural voters.