DES MOINES—It’s no secret that Iowa has been only lightly touched by the increasing racial diversity that has reconfigured the Democratic Party nationwide. But while the demographic change evident in the Democratic coalition has largely bypassed Iowa, the state has been swept up in the party’s most important geographic change.
Democrats in Iowa are improving their performance in the urban centers that are driving most of the state’s population growth, while the party is simultaneously losing ground in the small towns and rural areas that are either stagnant or losing population. With the Iowa caucus just days away, the cumulative force of this population shift could tilt the final outcome in what looks to be a tight race.
In Monday’s contest, the Democratic candidates will be more reliant on metro areas—particularly those with large numbers of young adults and white-collar suburbanites—than even four years ago: Among the state’s 99 counties, just seven will award 53 percent of the delegates at stake.
These changes create the most obvious challenge for former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who are relying heavily on older and more establishment voters based in rural communities and smaller cities. Bigger turnout in college towns like Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa, will benefit Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont—though critics complain that the rules of the caucus are designed to undercut the clout of college towns. Bigger turnout in the white-collar suburbs around Des Moines, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids could primarily benefit Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg—though both Biden and Klobuchar are hoping to remain competitive in those areas too.