How Dubuque County Went Republican For The 1st Time Since Eisenhower

January 3rd, 2017
How Dubuque County Went Republican For The 1st Time Since Eisenhower

The election of 2016 provided many surprising results to longtime Iowa politics watchers, but one county shaded in red stood out most of all: Dubuque. The working class Catholic river town of Northeast Iowa was won by the Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1956, when it was Dwight Eisenhower on the ballot. With just under 100,000 residents, Dubuque is Iowa’s seventh-largest county, and often gives the Democrats healthy victory margins (about a 10,000 vote margin in 2008, 7,000 in 2012).

Not in 2016, though.

Barack Obama took Dubuque County with a 15-point victory in 2012, winning there 56.5% to Mitt Romney’s 41.8%. Trump carried it with 47.2% of the vote to Clinton’s 46%. Trump racked up 2,180 more votes than Romney did, while Clinton received 5,918 fewer votes than Obama. Overall turnout was down 1,173 votes, or about 2%. Third party candidates saw their share of the vote rise by a decent amount.

Dubuque Co. 2016 2016 % 2012 2012 % Vote Diff % Diff
Trump/Romney 23,460 47.2% 21,280 41.8% 2,180 5.4%
Clinton/Obama 22,850 46.0% 28,768 56.5% -5,918 -10.6%
Stein 379 0.8% 111 0.2% 268 0.5%
Johnson 2,013 4.0% 438 0.9% 1,575 3.2%
Other 1,019 2.0% 297 0.6% 722 1.5%
Total 49,721 50,894 -1,173

But those countywide numbers only tell part of the story. Where specifically did the vote swings occur, and what could that tell us about where the Democratic Party needs to improve on in the future?

(As always, you can download my full spreadsheet here to play with the numbers yourself.)

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office released the official canvass last month, which allows us to now take a close, detailed look at precinct-by-precinct results, and compare them to 2012. Much of what you find in the Dubuque County precinct results confirms the national trends: rural areas backed Republicans in overwhelming numbers, many blue collar Democrats switched to Trump and turnout was down in reliably Democratic areas.

However, the magnitude of the raw vote shifts in Dubuque County is astonishing. Clinton lost more than one out of every four votes that Obama got in Dubuque’s downtown precincts, an area that is historically one of the strongest in the entire state for Democrats. A precipitous drop in turnout in precincts with younger voters cost Clinton hundreds of votes. And one rural precinct saw a 45-point swing toward Trump over Republicans’ 2012 performance.

Clinton did not improve in raw votes over 2012 in a single precinct. There were simply precincts where she did less bad than others, and a few where her percentage advantage over Trump was slightly better than 2012, but only because of overall depressed turnout. But even those areas where Clinton didn’t underperform too much still shows hopeful signs for Democrats moving forward.

We’ll go through each region of Dubuque County and parse the precinct results to see what trends are apparent, but let’s first take a look at some countywide maps. Grant Gregory, a former Iowan and recent graduate living in D.C., was nice enough to help Starting Line with some mapping of the data.

First, here’s how the county played out between the Democrats and Republicans:

As is the case in many Midwestern counties, Republicans rack up big wins in the rural areas as Democrats’ margins improve the closer you get to downtown. Obama won several of those rural precincts in 2012, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The most important metric we’ll look at is how much Trump’s margins improved over 2012. For example, if Obama won a precinct 60% to 35% in 2012, but Clinton only won it 50% to 45% in 2018, that’s a 20-point margin improvement for Republicans (from +25 Democrat to +5 Democrat). Even if Trump lost some of the downtown precincts, he lost it by a much smaller margin than Romney did four years ago:

As you can see, the most Democratic area of Dubuque is also where Trump saw some of his best improvements. We’ll take a closer look at that in a moment, but first here’s a map of how turnout changed in 2016:

City of Dubuque

The most fascinating shifts in party allegiance and overall turnout happened around downtown Dubuque. For the purposes of this story, I’m going to divide the city into four different sections: The Flats, College/Hills, Western Edge, and the North and South Periphery. Locals are free to quibble with me about whether this represents an accurate division of the city’s neighborhoods and demographics, but I think it serves a useful way to analyze the data.

Take a look at the below map to get a sense of the city’s layout. You can zoom in a bit and see other maps at the Secretary of State’s page for Dubuque precincts. For reference, here’s which precincts I’m putting in which section:

The Flats: 13, 14, 15, 16
College/Hills: 8, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 19
Western Edge: 3, 4, 5, 6, Asbury East, Asbury West/Center North
North and South Periphery: 1, 2, 12, 20

city-of-dubuque-precincts

Downtown Dubuque/”The Flats”

Let’s start with the most interesting section of town. The locals call downtown and the neighborhoods surrounding it “The Flats,” situated between the Mississippi River and the bluffs. Row houses are packed close together on the long, straight streets here.

While Precincts 14, 15 and 16 are where most of Dubuque’s African American population lives, it’s still a mostly white, blue collar area. Many of the locals have been living here for 30 years or more. The former Dubuque meat packing facility, locally known as “The Pack,” employed thousands of people until it shut down in 2001. There’s still some factories around, including the John Deere facility, that employs much of this section of town. But the loss of many large manufacturing companies has led this area to also become known as the “Abandoned Warehouse District.” German Catholics are concentrated on the north side of The Flats, Irish Catholics are more common on the south end.

This used to be a place where Democrats could rack up impressive vote margins. Clinton still won all four precincts here, but the shift from 2012 is dramatic. I’m going to list all the data in each of these sections, but just scroll down if you want the summary (I’m using the polling place name as well since that’s how the locals know each part of town).

2016 Vote and %        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
13 – Moose Lodge 355 467  (43.2%) 545  (50.5%) 11  (1.0%) 37  (3.4%) 20  (1.9%) 1080
14 – Sacred Heart 317  (34.5%) 528  (57.5%) 13  (1.4%) 39  (4.2%) 22  (2.4%) 919
15 – Holy Trinity 553  (41.3%) 688  (51.4%) 13  (1.0%) 55  (4.1%) 30  (2.2%) 1339
16 – Election Annex 209  (28.7%) 469  (64.3%) 9  (1.2%) 22  (3.0%) 20  (2.7%) 729
2012 Vote and %        
  Romney Obama Stein Johnson Other Total
13 – Moose Lodge 355 362 (28.5%) 881 (69.5%) 1 (0.1%) 14 (1.1%) 10 (0.8%) 1268
14 – Sacred Heart 250 (24.9%) 730 (72.7%) 4 (0.4%) 11 (1.1%) 9 (0.9%) 1004
15 – Holy Trinity 413 (30.5%) 923 (68.1%) 1 (0.1%) 9 (0.7%) 9 (0.7%) 1355
16 – Election Annex 165 (22.2%) 555 (74.6%) 2 (0.3%) 13 (1.7%) 9 (1.2%) 744
Raw Vote Diff        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
13 – Moose Lodge 355 105 -336 10 23 10 -188
14 – Sacred Heart 67 -202 9 28 13 -85
15 – Holy Trinity 140 -235 12 46 21 -16
16 – Election Annex 44 -86 7 9 11 -15
% Diff          
  Trump Clinton  Stein Johnson Other Net R Swing
13 – Moose Lodge 355 14.7% -19.0% 0.9% 2.3% 1.1% 33.7%
14 – Sacred Heart 9.6% -15.3% 1.0% 3.1% 1.5% 24.8%
15 – Holy Trinity 10.8% -16.7% 0.9% 3.4% 1.6% 27.6%
16 – Election Annex 6.5% -10.3% 1.0% 1.3% 1.5% 16.8%

The biggest margin differential in the city occurred in Precinct 13. Obama won 13 by a 70% – 29% margin in 2012. Clinton only bested Trump by a 51% – 43% margin. That’s a net swing of 34%. When a Democrat can’t rack up massive margins in a blue county’s best precincts, there’s just no hope for a countywide win.

The other significant number here is turnout. In Precincts 15 and 16, the more working class neighborhoods of The Flats, turnout stayed right around 2012 numbers. So Clinton’s problem wasn’t that Democrats stayed home, it’s that voters flipped to the Republican Party or to independent candidates. Clinton received 235 fewer votes than Obama did in Precinct 15, even though turnout only dipped by 16 votes.

However, in Precincts 13 and 14, the area of The Flats with some lower income areas, the problem was both vote switchers and low turnout. 188 fewer people voted in Precinct 13, contributing to Clinton getting a whopping 336 fewer votes than Obama in 2012.

The north end of The Flats – where more German Catholics live – gave Trump the biggest improvement, while the south end – where you have more Irish Catholics – was still bad, but not as much so. Although that might be a coincidence from other factors.

Third parties also made a big impact here, with non-Clinton/Trump candidates getting 8% of the vote in Precinct 14 and 7.3% in Precinct 15.

Overall, Clinton lost over one out of four voters in The Flats that went for Obama in 2012. A mix of frustrated blue collar voters and depressed turnout from African Americans combined to undercut the base of the party’s support that made Dubuque so Democratic for so long.

 

 

College/Hills

Moving into the midsection of the city, let’s take a look at the neighborhoods around Dubuque’s many colleges (Loras College, Clarke University, University of Dubuque and Emmaus Bible College), as well as the mix of middle class neighborhoods and apartment buildings in the city’s hills. This seven-precinct part of town isn’t completely homogenous, but the differences between certain areas are interesting.

Many of Dubuque’s younger residents live in this area of town, either as college students, recent graduates or young families in their 20’s and 30’s. Here’s the data:

2016 Vote and %        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
8 – Emmaus Bible College 514  (43.5%) 571  (48.3%) 6  (0.5%) 54  (4.6%) 36  (3.0%) 1181
9 – Westminister 528  (37.4%) 744  (52.7%) 24  (1.7%) 77  (5.4%) 40  (2.8%) 1413
10 – Westminister 667  (38.6%) 907  (52.5%) 20  (1.2%) 86  (5.0%) 49  (2.8%) 1729
11 – UAW Local 94 Hall 563  (40.8%) 716  (51.8%) 14  (1.0%) 60  (4.3%) 28  (2.0%) 1381
17 – St John’s 267  (35.7%) 400  (53.5%) 11  (1.5%) 45  (6.0%) 24  (3.2%) 747
18 – Federal Building 345  (31.2%) 651  (58.8%) 22  (2.0%) 66  (6.0%) 23  (2.1%) 1107
19 – YMCA Building 456  (32.5%) 827  (59.0%) 18  (1.3%) 70  (5.0%) 31  (2.2%) 1402
2012 Vote and %        
  Romney Obama Stein Johnson Other Total
8 – Emmaus Bible College 480  (39.0%) 731  (59.4%) 3  (0.2%) 7  (0.6%) 10  (0.8%) 1231
9 – Westminister 663  (39.8%) 966  (57.9%) 4  (0.2%) 24  (1.4%) 10  (0.6%) 1667
10 – Westminister 641  (32.8%) 1279  (65.4%) 8  (0.4%) 21  (1.1%) 6  (0.3%) 1955
11 – UAW Local 94 Hall 482  (32.1%) 995  (66.3%) 6  (0.4%) 11  (0.7%) 7  (0.5%) 1501
17 – St John’s 238  (27.1%) 610  (69.5%) 5  (0.6%) 18  (2.1%) 7  (0.8%) 878
18 – Federal Building 378  (29.5%) 868  (67.7%) 4  (0.3%) 22  (1.7%) 10  (0.8%) 1282
19 – YMCA Building 514  (34.2%) 957  (63.8%) 6  (0.4%) 16  (1.1%) 8  (0.5%) 1501
Raw Vote Diff        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
8 – Emmaus Bible College 34 -160 3 47 26 -50
9 – Westminister -135 -222 20 53 30 -254
10 – Westminister 26 -372 12 65 43 -226
11 – UAW Local 94 Hall 81 -279 8 49 21 -120
17 – St John’s 29 -210 6 27 17 -131
18 – Federal Building -33 -217 18 44 13 -175
19 – YMCA Building -58 -130 12 54 23 -99
% Diff          
  Trump Clinton  Stein Johnson Other Net R Swing
8 – Emmaus Bible College 4.5% -11.0% 0.3% 4.0% 2.2% 15.6%
9 – Westminister -2.4% -5.3% 1.5% 4.0% 2.2% 2.9%
10 – Westminister 5.8% -13.0% 0.7% 3.9% 2.5% 18.8%
11 – UAW Local 94 Hall 8.7% -14.4% 0.6% 3.6% 1.6% 23.1%
17 – St John’s 8.6% -15.9% 0.9% 4.0% 2.4% 24.6%
18 – Federal Building 1.7% -8.9% 1.7% 4.2% 1.3% 10.6%
19 – YMCA Building -1.7% -4.8% 0.9% 3.9% 1.7% 3.1%

As in The Flats, Clinton won all the precincts in the midtown area, but far underperformed Obama’s totals in 2012. The two precincts closest to downtown, 11 and 17, more resemble what we saw there, with Trump improving on Romney’s numbers by 8 points and Clinton dropping significantly, for a total net shift of 23% and 25%.

However, the most interesting results are in Precincts 9, 18 and 19, where the net swing to Republicans was only 2.9%, 10.6% and 3.1%. These are the precincts with lots of young voters, including many of the Loras College students who live in Precinct 9. Trump actually lost a significant amount of votes compared to Romney here, receiving 135 less in Precinct 9. Clinton just lost more, and the third party candidates saw some of their biggest totals here. Stein, Johnson and others combined for 9.9% of the vote in 9, 10.1% in 18 and 8.5% in 19.

The difference between these precincts and The Flats seems to be that older Democrats flipped to Trump, while younger Democrats appeared more likely to move to Johnson, or just didn’t vote.

The other big number here is that turnout was down in these young voter areas, way down. Especially around Loras College, voters simply didn’t turn out. 254 fewer voters showed up in Precinct 9, 226 fewer in Precinct 10. Again, take a look at the turnout map – the biggest drop off is all concentrated in the middle of the city:

These precincts are bad news for all parties. For Democrats, their former reliable voting bloc of young people during Obama’s campaigns are not turning out or going third party. For Republicans, young voters clearly want absolutely nothing to do with Trump, which is a major missed opportunity given their distaste for Clinton. For third party candidates, they’re doing best in places where turnout drops the most, which shows they appeal well to those disillusioned with politics… but not enough to actually get those people out to vote for them. And for Jill Stein supporters, her poor performance in comparison to Gary Johnson (Stein got only 379 total votes in Dubuque County, Johnson got 2,013) seems to undercut the idea that what will drive young people to the polls is an extremely progressive, far left policy agenda. Instead they are either leaning Libertarian, or they are casting a protest vote for Johnson instead of a more ideological vote for Stein.

 

Western Edge

Okay, now how about some halfway good news for Democrats? Or at least as good as it’s going to get in Dubuque County. There seems to be some room for opportunity for the future in the highly-educated, middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods on the western edge of the city. These are the neighborhoods built after World War 2, that are still expanding outward and that have a mostly suburban feel to them. In the exurban Asbury area, one of the precincts literally votes at the country club.

Here Trump faced his biggest struggle, only slightly improving on Romney’s vote total, but often underperforming his percentage of the growing vote. Clinton lost votes here as well, but it wasn’t nearly as pronounced as elsewhere in the city.

Here’s the data for the six precincts on Dubuque’s western edge:

2016 Vote and %        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
3 – ARC Building 450  (40.2%) 585  (52.2%) 13  (1.2%) 52  (4.6%) 20  (1.8%) 1120
4 – Journey Church 925  (44.2%) 1050  (50.1%) 12  (0.6%) 73  (3.5%) 35  (1.7%) 2095
5 – Tri-State Blind 811  (43.4%) 923  (49.4%) 10  (0.5%) 86  (4.6%) 40  (2.1%) 1870
6 – Summit Cong. Church 731  (44.1%) 809  (48.8%) 15  (0.9%) 68  (4.1%) 35  (2.1%) 1658
31 – Asbury City Hall 816  (44.8%) 878  (48.2%) 13  (0.7%) 71  (3.9%) 42  (2.3%) 1820
32 – The Meadows Golf 1260  (55.7%) 859  (38.0%) 11  (0.5%) 84  (3.7%) 47  (2.1%) 2261
2012 Vote and %        
  Romney Obama Stein Johnson Other Total
3 – ARC Building 462  (38.9%) 710  (59.7%) 2  (0.2%) 7  (0.6%) 8  (0.7%) 1189
4 – Journey Church 894  (44.5%) 1082  (53.9%) 4  (0.2%) 17  (0.8%) 11  (0.5%) 2008
5 – Tri-State Blind 760  (40.0%) 1106  (58.2%) 2  (0.1%) 14  (0.7%) 17  (0.9%) 1899
6 – Summit Cong. Church 729  (44.7%) 872  (53.4%) 4  (0.2%) 17  (1.0%) 10  (0.6%) 1632
31 – Asbury City Hall 738  (44.9%) 883  (53.8%) 1  (0.1%) 13  (0.8%) 7  (0.4%) 1642
32 – The Meadows Golf 1163  (55.2%) 919  (43.7%) 1  (0.0%) 13  (0.6%) 9  (0.4%) 2105
Raw Vote Diff        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
3 – ARC Building -12 -125 11 45 12 -69
4 – Journey Church 31 -32 8 56 24 87
5 – Tri-State Blind 51 -183 8 72 23 -29
6 – Summit Cong. Church 2 -63 11 51 25 26
31 – Asbury City Hall 78 -5 12 58 35 178
32 – The Meadows Golf 97 -60 10 71 38 156
% Diff          
  Trump Clinton  Stein Johnson Other Net R Swing
3 – ARC Building 1.3% -7.5% 1.0% 4.1% 1.1% 8.8%
4 – Journey Church -0.4% -3.8% 0.4% 2.6% 1.1% 3.4%
5 – Tri-State Blind 3.3% -8.9% 0.4% 3.9% 1.2% 12.2%
6 – Summit Cong. Church -0.6% -4.6% 0.7% 3.1% 1.5% 4.1%
31 – Asbury City Hall -0.1% -5.5% 0.7% 3.1% 1.9% 5.4%
32 – The Meadows Golf 0.5% -5.7% 0.4% 3.1% 1.7% 6.1%

While Clinton didn’t improve on Obama’s raw vote numbers in a single precinct in Dubuque County, she came just 5 votes shy in the relatively well-off community of Asbury. Overall the net shift to Republicans in these precincts was kept relatively low, and that was mostly due to some third party defections, rather than a dramatic increase in votes for Trump.

This is also the first area we’re looking at where turnout increased in many places. When we get to the rural areas, we’ll see that was a terrible sign for Clinton, but here the better turnout was a mostly mixed bag for the two main contenders.

Still, this was one of the biggest disappointments for the Clinton campaign – they hoped to increase Democrats’ votes in these suburban areas, especially among independent and Republican-leaning women. That clearly didn’t happen for Clinton, as she failed to pick up votes here, but there still remained a clear discomfort among Republicans for Trump.

If the problem was simply Clinton as a candidate, then Democrats are poised to make real gains here in the future as long as Trump continues to damage the Republican brand among suburban voters. But as these numbers show, it won’t simply be enough to be anti-Trump to capitalize on this opportunity. You have to put up a somewhat acceptable alternative to get these voters to abandon Republicans.

 

North/South Periphery

Four precincts lay on the outer edge of the north and south end of the city, but don’t fit into a neat geographic or demographic area. They do, however, highlight again the economic divide driving the 2016 vote.

Precinct 12 is north of downtown, Precinct 1 is south – both have large trailer park complexes in them. Precinct 2 and 20 are just south of Highway 20 – both have higher-income neighborhoods. Precinct 20 contains the older, fancier houses of old Dubuque, while Precinct 2 has more new developments. Many of the city’s college professors live in Precinct 2, while many nuns live in Precinct 20.

Here’s how they turned out:

2016 Vote and %        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
1 – Rockdale Methodist 952  (49.6%) 836  (43.6%) 16  (0.8%) 86  (4.5%) 29  (1.5%) 1919
2 – Thesiens 818  (43.0%) 970  (51.0%) 9  (0.5%) 64  (3.4%) 40  (2.1%) 1901
12 – Windsor Park 645  (40.4%) 857  (53.7%) 15  (0.9%) 55  (3.4%) 25  (1.6%) 1597
20 – Fogarty Hall Center 645  (37.6%) 936  (54.6%) 22  (1.3%) 64  (3.7%) 47  (2.7%) 1714
2012 Vote and %        
  Romney Obama Stein Johnson Other Total
1 – Rockdale Methodist 898  (46.1%) 1027  (52.7%) 1  (0.1%) 17  (0.9%) 5  (0.3%) 1948
2 – Thesiens 882  (45.7%) 1019  (52.8%) 4  (0.2%) 19  (1.0%) 7  (0.4%) 1931
12 – Windsor Park 554  (33.2%) 1094  (65.5%) 3  (0.2%) 12  (0.7%) 7  (0.4%) 1670
20 – Fogarty Hall Center 651  (37.2%) 1064  (60.8%) 5  (0.3%) 16  (0.9%) 14  (0.8%) 1750
Raw Vote Diff        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
1 – Rockdale Methodist 54 -191 15 69 24 -29
2 – Thesiens -64 -49 5 45 33 -30
12 – Windsor Park 91 -237 12 43 18 -73
20 – Fogarty Hall Center -6 -128 17 48 33 -36
% Diff          
  Trump Clinton  Stein Johnson Other Net R Swing
1 – Rockdale Methodist 3.5% -9.2% 0.8% 3.6% 1.3% 12.7%
2 – Thesiens -2.6% -1.7% 0.3% 2.4% 1.7% -0.9%
12 – Windsor Park 7.2% -11.8% 0.8% 2.7% 1.1% 19.1%
20 – Fogarty Hall Center 0.4% -6.2% 1.0% 2.8% 1.9% 6.6%

Clinton’s biggest drop-off came in the larger trailer park area of Precinct 12, falling 237 votes short of what Obama got. Again, she still won it overall, but by a much lower margin than Democrats did in 2012. Trump lost Romney votes in both of the more well-off precincts.

But Clinton didn’t do half bad in the nicer areas on the south side of Dubuque. She even slightly improved on the Obama/Romney margin in Precinct 2 – Obama won by 7.1 points, Clinton took it by 8.

 

Rural Dubuque County

That covers everything for the city of Dubuque, now let’s turn to the county. This was all Trump country, where he saw some of the most dramatic swings in support from 2012 and, most importantly, a large increase in voter turnout. Rural Dubuque County is overwhelmingly Catholic and very pro-life. A number of prominent Catholic churches are located in the small northern towns of Balltown and Luxemburg. Democrats can and have won out here, you just have to be a well-known Catholic Democrat to do so.

Here’s the county map:

And here’s the data (this time I’m using the precinct names instead of the polling places so it’s easier to tell which town/township is which):

2016 Vote and %        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
33 – Cascade 681  (51.7%) 554  (42.0%) 2  (0.2%) 57  (4.3%) 24  (1.8%) 1318
34 – Peosta/Centralia 1276  (57.5%) 805  (36.3%) 7  (0.3%) 93  (4.2%) 37  (1.7%) 2218
35 – Holy Cross/Luxemburg/New Vienna 930  (68.0%) 364  (26.6%) 6  (0.4%) 54  (3.9%) 14  (1.0%) 1368
36 – Dubuque North 901  (56.2%) 598  (37.3%) 9  (0.6%) 60  (3.7%) 36  (2.2%) 1604
37 – Dyersville 414  (60.3%) 242  (35.2%) 3  (0.4%) 13  (1.9%) 15  (2.2%) 687
38 – Dyersville 414  (59.5%) 231  (33.2%) 4  (0.6%) 36  (5.2%) 11  (1.6%) 696
39 – Worthington/Dodge 890  (63.7%) 430  (30.8%) 5  (0.4%) 44  (3.1%) 28  (2.0%) 1397
40 – Farley 442  (55.5%) 305  (38.3%) 3  (0.4%) 38  (4.8%) 8  (1.0%) 796
41 – Epworth/Bankston 801  (54.3%) 592  (40.1%) 4  (0.3%) 50  (3.4%) 28  (1.9%) 1475
42 – Rickardsville/Sherrill/Balltown 979  (58.0%) 592  (35.1%) 9  (0.5%) 73  (4.3%) 35  (2.1%) 1688
43 – Table Mound/Zwingle 1048  (55.6%) 743  (39.4%) 9  (0.5%) 53  (2.8%) 31  (1.6%) 1884
44 – Bernard 216  (60.0%) 121  (33.6%) 2  (0.6%) 14  (3.9%) 7  (1.9%) 360
45 – Table Mound West 787  (57.7%) 495  (36.3%) 4  (0.3%) 57  (4.2%) 20  (1.5%) 1363
2012 Vote and %        
  Romney Obama Stein Johnson Other Total
33 – Cascade 557  (42.1%) 744  (56.2%) 4  (0.3%) 15  (1.1%) 4  (0.3%) 1324
34 – Peosta/Centralia 1091  (53.3%) 930  (45.4%) 4  (0.2%) 12  (0.6%) 11  (0.5%) 2048
35 – Holy Cross/Luxemburg/New Vienna 753  (56.2%) 566  (42.3%) 2  (0.1%) 8  (0.6%) 10  (0.7%) 1339
36 – Dubuque North 809  (51.4%) 746  (47.4%) 3  (0.2%) 9  (0.6%) 7  (0.4%) 1574
37 – Dyersville 346  (48.6%) 358  (50.3%) 0  (0.0%) 4  (0.6%) 4  (0.6%) 712
38 – Dyersville 389  (56.5%) 289  (41.9%) 1  (0.1%) 4  (0.6%) 6  (0.9%) 689
39 – Worthington/Dodge 798  (56.7%) 595  (42.3%) 4  (0.3%) 4  (0.3%) 6  (0.4%) 1407
40 – Farley 311  (39.6%) 464  (59.1%) 2  (0.3%) 6  (0.8%) 2  (0.3%) 785
41 – Epworth/Bankston 629  (41.7%) 859  (56.9%) 2  (0.1%) 9  (0.6%) 10  (0.7%) 1509
42 – Rickardsville/Sherrill/Balltown 736  (45.6%) 847  (52.5%) 2  (0.1%) 13  (0.8%) 15  (0.9%) 1613
43 – Table Mound/Zwingle 845  (45.1%) 997  (53.2%) 6  (0.3%) 15  (0.8%) 10  (0.5%) 1873
44 – Bernard 141  (39.3%) 210  (58.5%) 1  (0.3%) 2  (0.6%) 5  (1.4%) 359
45 – Table Mound West 775  (54.4%) 630  (44.2%) 4  (0.3%) 12  (0.8%) 4  (0.3%) 1425
Raw Vote Diff        
  Trump Clinton Stein Johnson Other Total
33 – Cascade 124 -190 -2 42 20 -6
34 – Peosta/Centralia 185 -125 3 81 26 170
35 – Holy Cross/Luxemburg/New Vienna 177 -202 4 46 4 29
36 – Dubuque North 92 -148 6 51 29 30
37 – Dyersville 68 -116 3 9 11 -25
38 – Dyersville 25 -58 3 32 5 7
39 – Worthington/Dodge 92 -165 1 40 22 -10
40 – Farley 131 -159 1 32 6 11
41 – Epworth/Bankston 172 -267 2 41 18 -34
42 – Rickardsville/Sherrill/Balltown 243 -255 7 60 20 75
43 – Table Mound/Zwingle 203 -254 3 38 21 11
44 – Bernard 75 -89 1 12 2 1
45 – Table Mound West 12 -135 0 45 16 -62
% Diff          
  Trump Clinton  Stein Johnson Other Net R Swing
33 – Cascade 10% -14% 0% 3% 2% 24%
34 – Peosta/Centralia 4% -9% 0% 4% 1% 13%
35 – Holy Cross/Luxemburg/New Vienna 12% -16% 0% 3% 0% 27%
36 – Dubuque North 5% -10% 0% 3% 2% 15%
37 – Dyersville 12% -15% 0% 1% 2% 27%
38 – Dyersville 3% -9% 0% 5% 1% 12%
39 – Worthington/Dodge 7% -12% 0% 3% 2% 18%
40 – Farley 16% -21% 0% 4% 1% 37%
41 – Epworth/Bankston 13% -17% 0% 3% 1% 29%
42 – Rickardsville/Sherrill/Balltown 12% -17% 0% 4% 1% 30%
43 – Table Mound/Zwingle 11% -14% 0% 2% 1% 24%
44 – Bernard 21% -25% 0% 3% 1% 46%
45 – Table Mound West 3% -8% 0% 3% 1% 11%

Obama won an impressive 7 of 13 of these rural precincts in 2012. It seemed like they all woke up on Election Day in 2016 and realized, “Oh yeah, we’re Republicans now.” Clinton failed to win a single rural Dubuque precinct, and the net shifts in Republican support were vast.

It’s unlikely you’ll find many other precincts in the state – or country – that swung a full 46 points to Republicans, as Bernard, the small rural farming community in southern Dubuque County, did this year. Some of the other biggest shifts were in the northern small Catholic communities of New Vienna, Luxemburg, Holy Cross and Balltown. Dyersville, the hub of rural Dubuque on the county’s western border, surprisingly wasn’t quite as bad for Democrats.

Economic and cultural trends played a part here as well. Compare the net Republican shift in Peosta (13%) to Farley (37%). Farley is your more typical small town Iowa, with a tiny town center and large agricultural buildings nearby, while Peosta is a bedroom community for Dubuque, laid out in newer subdivisions.

The other important number here is turnout. While Dubuque County overall saw 1,173 fewer voters show up in 2016, the rural precincts improved over 2012 turnout by 197 votes. Republican voters were motivated to show up, and some places seemed to increase specifically thanks to new Trump voters. However, if you look back at the turnout map, you’ll notice the largest gains came in the areas right around the outer edge of Dubuque, where new developments are being built. So some of the biggest turnout jumps could be more attributable to simply more people living there than four years ago.

Trump boosted the raw vote total over Romney’s in a big way here. Countywide Trump got 2,180 more votes than Romney, 1,599 of which came from these 13 rural precincts alone. He racked up 243 extra votes in the Balltown area and 203 more in southeast corner of Dubuque County around Zwingle. Meanwhile, Clinton lost one out of every four votes that Obama received in rural Dubuque.

 

Lessons Moving Forward

So what does this all mean for both parties as they look to rebuild or solidify their advantage? For one, it’s helpful to put actual solid numbers to the general assumptions like blue collar voters abandoned Democrats and rural areas swung even harder for Republicans in order to start prioritizing your solutions.

The most daunting challenge for Democrats is that they essentially need to address everything: bringing home blue collar voters, boosting youth turnout and support, and winning back a decent margin of rural voters.

Countywide, Clinton got 5,918 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012. 859 of those were from the four precincts in The Flats, 1,590 were from the seven precincts of the College/Hills region where there’s more young voters, and 2,163 came from the 13 rural precincts. You can’t just address one of those areas and hope to win statewide or even in Dubuque County again. Nor can simply a strong field effort or solely a new, better message fix Democrats woes – they lost for multiple different kinds of reasons across Dubuque.

Winning deep blue precincts by 55% instead of 70% won’t rack up the totals needed to offset Republican wins elsewhere. And losing rural precincts in Eastern Iowa 60% to 35% gives the Republicans too much of a lead.

The one ray of good news is that Democrats may have new opportunities going forward in the growing suburban communities, which typically have strong turnout regardless of the year or type of election. Making real inroads there could yield major benefits, especially in state legislative districts. It might also be nice to finally have a base of support for the Democratic Party that isn’t extremely difficult to convince to go to the polls every two years.

And that’s the one concern that Republicans might take out of these numbers – the areas of the state where the population is growing seem uneasy with Trump, and new, younger voters first coming into the process appear to outright despise him. That didn’t matter so much in 2016 as youth turnout decreased, rural areas more than made up for any losses, and Clinton couldn’t capitalize in suburban areas. But a stronger Democratic top-of-ticket in future elections could exacerbate those looming problems for Republicans.

Still, those potential opportunities won’t be enough if Democrats don’t right the ship with their blue collar voters and with rural areas. The makeup of Dubuque County mirrors the statewide issues for Democrats – there simply isn’t enough of the suburban precincts that may look promising to make up for the population in areas trending Republican.

So as the Democrats plan their path back to victory, party leaders and activists should study the specific numbers of what went wrong in 2016 in order to craft a wide-ranging solution that addresses every weakness.

 

Thanks again to Grant for help with the maps. If you like his work, contact him at grantrgregory@gmail.com.

by Pat Rynard
Posted 1/3/16

10 thoughts on “How Dubuque County Went Republican For The 1st Time Since Eisenhower

  1. John Deeth says:

    Great post. I should do this for Johnson…

  2. Julie Stauch says:

    Excellent analysis and explanation, Pat. It also shows why we, as Democrats, have to reach the many different communities of the state AND allow flexibility in the approach to fit the make up of the community.

  3. Gary Schmidt says:

    It proves that Democrats need to put much more emphasis on the rural areas. That doesn’t mean we should look away from the suburbs. Problem for the suburbs is many of those folks have rural ties that have traditionaly been Republican. Many of them will stay with their traditional ties.

  4. Bret says:

    I am not looking to start a fight over HRC as the 2016 candidate, but I do find it interesting that Clinton seemed to fare the *worst* in 2016 in the same places and same demographics where she ran *best* in the 2008 primaries against Obama. That kind of swing makes strategy and even recruitment challenging; I’d honestly like to know what changed (and why) between 2008 and 2016 in how she was perceived, because obviously something did and I really don’t see any legitimate actual change in Clinton herself (indeed, I thought she ran a better campaign this time than in 2008 where her team seemed to not fully grasp caucus rules).

    1. John Deeth says:

      White Guy > White Woman > Black Guy. And if Bernie runs again which I doubt, White Christian Guy > Jewish Guy.

  5. Chris says:

    I think HRC did run a better campaign this time around. However, I think the e-mail “scandal” and just Clinton fatigue may have worked in Trumps favor. In the end, I don’t think we will ever really know but it is important for Democrats to keep showing up in these rural areas.

  6. jim coleman says:

    Simple. The people of Dubuque do not want a woman for president.

  7. Virginia Meyer says:

    These deep data dives may be necessary, but they are never sufficient. The Dems must offer something that the voters want, no matter what the demographic. Why is the lesson from Bernie’s success so hard to learn? We want leadership that is in no way financed by corporations and the donor class. We want leadership that is uncompromising about championing bold progressive values, and that campaign hard with those messages. Even though we know Trump will not follow through with many of his campaign promises he won voters by exposing devastating trade deals, crumbling infrastructure, and protecting medicare and social security. Imagine a Democratic candidate who would actually follow through with these ideas. Most people didn’t believe Hillary’s denouncement of the TPP “as it stands” was a sincere desire to stop it. They saw Obama willing to make the grand bargain to cut Medicare and SS, and Hillary as a continuation of the often third way politics of Obama. Hillary’s infrastructure plan was on her website, but she never used it as an important part of what she offered to people. Voters saw her as more of the same. Many many people no longer see America as a place to make your dreams come true. Trump said he will make it great again. When the ship is sinking you grab anything that floats. You will even believe an obvious liar for a ray of hope. Real progressive change could be a real ray of hope. The Dems did not offer that. They lost.

  8. Michael Loebach says:

    Excellent analysis!

    Would it make sense to review what the Iowa Republican playbook was this past election (or longer) to see what organizing efforts are leading to their superior election results?

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