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Who exactly participates in the Iowa caucuses?

Iowa often has a perception of mainly being a farming state, but it's much more urban and white-collar than some perceive it to be.
Who exactly participates in the Iowa caucuses?
Posted at 10:40 AM, Jan 08, 2024

You are about to hear a lot about the state of Iowa. After all, the Iowa caucuses are only a few days away. But who exactly participates in these caucuses?

We dug into the data and found that if your perception of Iowa is only about corn fields and farms, that is perhaps one way to lose.

Reputation for farming

Iowa has a reputation for farming, and in politics, the presidential candidates seem to be near a tractor or a cornfield frequently or talking about farm issues in their speeches.

But is this agriculture stereotype a fair one? For answers, we turned to Daniel Lathrop, a data reporter who lives in Iowa and works for us here at Scripps News.

He dug into the numbers and surprised us.

"Iowa used to be a farm state. It's not anymore. Something like 5% of the workforce is in agriculture. There are only about 15,000 working farms in the entire state," Lathrop says.

SEE MORE: Republican candidates make a final push ahead of the Iowa caucuses

Many of those farms, Lathrop says, are hobby farms.

In fact, if you want to understand better what Iowans do for a living, you should look at who sponsors the big arena in Des Moines — a bank.

"There are about 90,000 people who work in banking, insurance, finance," Lathrop said.

"Iowa is more urban and suburban than rural and more likely to be an insurance guy than a farmer," he said. 

Other surprises about Iowa

Those weren't the only numbers that may be surprising about Iowa. Of the 1.5 million-plus active voters in the state, only around 180,000 people participated the last time Republicans had competitive caucuses.

Just 40 delegates to the Republican National Convention will be awarded, marking less than 2% of total GOP delegates nationwide.

As far as the overall economy, the unemployment rate in Iowa is lower than the national average. It also lacks racial diversity compared to other states as 89% of the population is White, according to the census.

Regardless of what the data says, the reality is Iowa matters because it is first. While polls still show former President Donald Trump as the favorite to win, if he wants to have a historic blowout victory, he has work to do.

"To set a record, he has to hit 30 points. His campaign is talking about 12; they are trying to set the expectation pretty low," Lathrop said.

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