This is part 5 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing? Today, we will zoom in on the 3rd Congressional District in Iowa.
IA-03: progressive on taxation and college tuition, open to free trade, conservative in its support for traditional values and immigration. This district sees Democrat Cindy Axne squaring off against incumbent David Young, and fundraising efforts of both candidates are already running hot, foreshadowing seven-figures ad buys on paid media. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around taxation and college tuition in this educated but slightly poorer than average district, but Democrats need to take into consideration a deep hunger for traditionalism, and skepticism toward current levels of immigration, especially from an economic perspective.
This district encompasses the southwest portion of the state of Iowa, roughly an area including Des Moines to the Nebraska and Missouri borders. The third district in Iowa is a relatively poor district, with a median annual household income of $43,176, less than the national median of $57,223. The district is majority-White, with almost 92% of the population self-reporting their race/ethnicity as white, and very urban (centered around Iowa’s capital of Des Moines). But, the district is fairly educated, with a college graduation rate of 33.1%, compared to the 32% at the national level.
Local media attention is already intensifying in this urban Iowa district, and the reasons for that are very clear. Both candidates, Cindy Axne, the Democratic challenger, and David Young, the Republican incumbent, are formidable fundraisers: Young reports to have $1.4 Million dollars cash on hand in late July, and Axne reports to have close to $500 K, an impressive figure after a three-way Democratic Primary that Axne took with 58% of the vote against Democratic candidates Eddie Mauro and Pete d’Allessandro, avoiding a run-off election. And, both candidates have already locked up more than $1 Million for television spending in the fall campaign, guaranteeing that the spotlight on this race will further intensify.
In general, the state of the race is tight. Public polling has indicated that while Republican incumbent Young still has a lead, Democratic challenger Axne has started to catch up. The Cook Political Report recently changed its rating for this rate from “Leans Republican” to “Toss-up.” And that is not the only indication that this is race is tightening : The Cook PVI – comparing a congressional district’s average Democratic or Republican Party share of the two-party presidential vote in the past two presidential elections to the national average share for those elections – is set at R+1. And, PredictWise estimates that Young’s lead is constrained to nine percentage points, with plenty of undecided voters who could easily make up that difference. Further, PredictWise registers Trump approval in this Iowa district is at 47% – lower than the state average. In sum, Young may be in trouble. No wonder that the DCCC – the organization responsible for electing as many Democrats to the House of Representatives as possible – has added Axne to the organization’s coveted Red to Blue list identifying the most amenable candidates in its efforts to flip the House.
Politically, Axne supports a public option for Medicare/Medicaid buy-in, renewable energy, strengthening public schools, planned parenthood funding and LBTQ rights. Young on the other hand, first elected to Congress in 2014, is running as a deficit hawk, although he voted for the Trump tax cut. In addition, he voted in favor of the Wall, against sanctuary status, and in favor of undermining a woman’s right to choose.
IA-03: Traditional, longing for the values of a ” better Yesterday”
Conservative values prevail in this Midwestern district, paired with a longing for how things were, at least from a values perspective. A vast majority of likely voters in this Iowa district feel that things were better 50 years ago, when civil liberties for minorities were in a much more volatile state, and the nuclear family the ideal. 66% of all voters agree with this sentiment, including majorities of Democrats and Republicans.
These structurally conservative, or traditionalist attitudes translate into more concrete attitudes. When asked whether “it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking”, again a majority of voters agree: 59%. Among Democrats, support (48%) is at parity with opposition, but among Republicans support for spanking is strong, nearing 70%.
IA-03: Progressive on College Tuition, Taxation
Likely voters in this district empathize with the poor; and that is especially true for education. A clear majority (57%) of likely voters residing in Iowa’s third congressional district say that poor people have it “hard today” when it comes to education, and that includes a majority of Republicans (45%, as opposed to 42% who say that poor people have it easy today when it comes to education). In other words, even if poor people were willing, Iowans residing in this district believe it is hard for them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, educationally speaking.
As in many districts in the country, including TX-07, or CA-10, or CA-39, this general view readily translates into a distinct hunger for progressive and re-distributional policies in this district. For example, a clear majority of voters in this Midwestern district (59%), again including stable majorities of both, Democrats (68%) and Republicans (51%) support raising taxes on the inheritance of estates worth $10 Million or more in order to provide more government services. The recent Republican tax cut did exactly the opposite – voted for by Republican incumbent David Young – is firmly at odds with a sizable majority in this Iowa district.
College tuition is yet another example of the strongly ingrained preference for progressive economic policies in this district. vast majorities among overall voters, but also among likely voters affiliated with the Democratic and Republican party (76% and 51% respectively), favor making college tuition entirely free, the progressive anchor on the attitudinal scale.
IA-03: Open to Free Trade; Conservative on Immigration
In contrast to other districts in the Rust Belt, voters here believe that protection of the poor can be (and should be) expanded in unison with expanding free trade, not at the expense of it. When asked whether trade-offs are worth it when the US expands free trade, a majority of voters agree, and that includes a sizable majority of Republicans – close to 60%.
However, and in contrast to economic issues, immigration is not fruitful grounds for a successful progressive campaign in this district. A majority of likely voters here believes that recent immigrants have burdened the US when it comes to the job market (as opposed to only 34% who believe that recent immigrants have strengthened the US in this regard). Among likely voters in this district affiliated with the Republican party, only 25% – a quarter – believe that recent immigrants have strengthened the US. David Young, Republican incumbent, has recently come out against family separation, a sentiment that resonates with likely voters in this district who feel compassion toward immigrants in general. For example, only 17% of likely voters in this district support deportation for Dreamers. But, on levels of immigration, this urban, majority-White district is (much) more conservative than the nation as a whole.
IA-03: Tax cut is key, leverage Free Trade, avoid Immigration
In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district, especially given the vote history of incumbent David Young in favor of a tax cut hugely unpopular in this district, and Republican efforts to role back free trade agreement. But, while Iowans are compassionate toward immigrants in need, current levels of immigration are seen critically. And, Democrats would do well to answer to a traditionalist streak in this district.