Go to HHH home page.
Smart Politics
 


Iowa's Congressional District Map 5th Least Competitive in 17 Decades

Bookmark and Share

Last month Smart Politics profiled the lack of competitiveness generated by Minnesota's currently drawn Congressional District map - a map that has produced the third least percentage of competitive contests in 15 decades in the Gopher State.

Minnesota's neighbor to the south, while boasting a more competitive electoral history than the Gopher State, is also in the midst of a dearth in competitive U.S. House races when examined in a historical context. This includes a lackluster number of closely-fought seats in recent years despite the Hawkeye State being somewhat renowned in legislative circles for devising its district maps led by a nonpartisan redistricting service, the Legislative Service Bureau.

Iowa's current Congressional district map, divided into five districts, has produced the 5th lowest percentage of competitive general election races (those decided by less than 10 points) in the history of the state - dating back 17 decades to its first elections in 1847.

In 2008, no races were decided by less than 10 points - with an average margin of victory of 20.9 points. Since the inauguration of the current maps in 2002, just 20 percent of U.S. House races in Iowa have been competitive (5 of 20 contests). While this is more than double the national average (9.3 percent), it pales in the face of Iowa's rich history of producing close electoral contests.

From 1847 to 1980 (prior to the codification of the state's current redistricting process), more than one-third of all general election races were decided by less than 10 points - 197 of 560 (35.2 percent). This is a remarkable achievement, considering the stronghold the Republican Party had on Hawkeye State politics during this span: the GOP won 473 of 572 general and special election U.S. House contests during this 123-year period (82.7 percent), while Democrats won just 95 races (16.6 percent). Four third party candidates were also elected.

Despite sending Republicans to D.C. in droves, Iowa U.S. House elections were often quite competitive. From 1882 to 1890, for example, Republicans won 40 of 55 general election races (73 percent), but still 38 of these 55 contests were decided by less than 10 points (69 percent).

Since 1982, however, when the current redistricting code went into effect, only 18 of 80 races have been competitive, or just 19 percent. The decade prior to its enactment, 1972 to 1980, yielded competitive House races at a rate of 43 percent.

The only legislative maps that generated a lower amount of competitive races than the current 2002 map were from the Civil War era (1862-1870, 6.7 percent), the Roaring Twenties (1922-1930, 5.5 percent), World War II and the early Cold War period (1942-1950, 12.5 percent), and the Reagan-Bush years (1982-1990; 13.3 percent).

(Note: the drawing of district lines is but one way to increase the level of competitiveness, and it is not a stated priority of the Iowa Code. In fact, the statute expressly forbids past electoral results be taken into consideration when devising new maps. It is also true the heightened polarization of national political parties may be partially to blame for the dearth of competition, including in Iowa, where rural, more conservative areas of the state are less attracted to Democratic candidates than they would have been in the past, just like urban more liberal areas are not as likely to find common ground with Republican candidates).

Competitiveness in Iowa U.S. House Elections Since Statehood by Congressional District Map

Period
Seats
Competitive races
Percent competitive
MoV
2002-2008
5
4
20.0
15.9
1992-2000
5
7
28.0
24.0
1982-1990
6
4
13.3
30.6
1972-1980
6
13
43.3
16.9
1962-1970
7
15
42.9
15.0
1952-1960
8
14
35.0
16.3
1942-1950
8
5
12.5
18.7
1932-1940
9
27
60.0
10.1
1922-1930
11
3
5.5
33.9
1912-1920
11
14
25.5
29.9
1902-1910
11
18
32.7
17.6
1892-1900
11
21
38.2
12.9
1882-1890
11
38
69.1
8.5
1872-1880
9
14
31.1
18.0
1862-1870
6
2
6.7
23.3
1852-1860
2
7
70.0
6.9
1847-1850
2
6
100.0
4.5



Previous post: Minnesota Endures Worst Employment Skid in 30+ Years
Next post: The Trial Begins: What Is Norm Coleman's End Game?

1 Comment


  • Rather than blaming districting for the lack of competitive races it seems more appropriate to blame national party dominance over local politics. When the local candidates cannot be fielded that represent the interests of their constituents because they do not comply with the positions of the party bosses, the solution isn't to redistrict so as to give the party boss platform a better shot, but to let the representative process work from the grassroots as is the purpose of representative government.

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

    Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

    Political Crumbs

    Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

    Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


    An Idaho Six Pack

    Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


    more POLITICAL CRUMBS

    Humphrey School Sites
    CSPG
    Humphrey New Media Hub

    Issues />

<div id=
    Abortion
    Afghanistan
    Budget and taxes
    Campaign finances
    Crime and punishment
    Economy and jobs
    Education
    Energy
    Environment
    Foreign affairs
    Gender
    Health
    Housing
    Ideology
    Immigration
    Iraq
    Media
    Military
    Partisanship
    Race and ethnicity
    Reapportionment
    Redistricting
    Religion
    Sexuality
    Sports
    Terrorism
    Third parties
    Transportation
    Voting