The Real Lesson From Iowa

Robert Hubbell’s Substack analysis of the Iowa Republican caucus focused on a point I keep hammering: turnout–getting out the vote–is far and away the most important imperative of this year’s election cycle.

There is a mountain of social science data confirming that high-turnout elections benefit Democrats. There’s a reason the GOP does everything in its power to suppress the vote. By far the most effective suppression comes from gerrymandering–voters in districts drawn to be “safe” for a party they don’t support feel–not illogically–that their votes won’t count, so why bother? It will be critically important to remind those voters that statewide races and the popular vote for President are not subject to gerrymandering. With the exception of the potential operation of the Electoral College, those votes will absolutely count.

Hubbell makes the argument for the importance of turnout in the context of Iowa’s (weird) caucus system. He begins by looking at the composition of those who did turn out:

Among those who attended the caucuses, most voters hold extremist views. Those views are reprehensible and deserve to be condemned. But those who showed up on Monday were mostly Trump loyalists who represent the slimmest majority possible of voters in Iowa.

Although Hubbell doesn’t mention it, this feature of caucus turnout is equally true of turnout in state primaries. The typically low primary turnout is characterized by votes from the most passionate–and extreme–members of both parties. And those voters do not reflect majority sentiments.

So, as we collectively talk about the results in Iowa, it is important to realize that 49% of those who voted on a bitterly cold night (-3 Fahrenheit) did not support Trump. Most of the voters who opposed Trump do not condone his views about immigrants poisoning the blood of America, or his opponents being “vermin,” or his belief that the 2020 election was “rigged.”…

As we move forward in the 2024 campaign, let’s remember that there are Democrats, Independents, and Republicans in Iowa who will not support Trump. Our job is to convince them to show up for Biden. Lumping them in with MAGA extremists is not an effective way of achieving that goal.

And the same applies to every so-called “red state.” In every state, there are local and statewide offices that can be flipped—something that will help limit and blunt the effect of Republican control of statehouses and governors’ mansions.

So, let’s set aside the notion that red states are a lost cause and do not deserve our attention or support. Not only do they deserve our help, but they are the front line of resistance—just like the Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who chose not to vote for Trump on Monday.

Turnout in Iowa was low— only 110,298 voters participated in the GOP caucuses, amounting to about 19% of the 594,533 “active” registered Republicans . Of those, 51%  voted for Trump (or 52,260). So Trump’s “big” victory in Iowa was “achieved with support from 7% of Iowa Republicans—or 3% of Iowa’s 1,518,280 active voters.”

Trump’s victory on Monday night was decided by the 97% of Iowa voters who “did not vote” in the caucuses. So, before we over-interpret the result on Monday, we must recognize that the potential for a devastating defeat for Trump is within our reach—assuming that we can motivate sufficient turnout. (emphasis mine)

So, as we face the onslaught of polls in the coming primary season predicting doom for Democrats, we must always remember that turnout can beat any poll.

As Hubbell reminds his readers, the Iowa caucus results affirm a fundamental truth: It all comes down to turnout.

Even in dramatically-gerrymandered Indiana, if a significant percentage of the disaffected voters in “safe” districts voted, a number of the districts would no longer be safe. Republican victories in Indiana are increasingly dependent upon low turnout–especially in the more rural areas of the state that have been steadily losing population.

Hubbell is absolutely right when he insists that Democrats cannot afford to write off Red states this year, of all years.

We need to make the strongest possible case– to apathetic and/or disheartened Democrats as well as to Independents and any remaining sane Republicans– that their votes are needed to save the Constitution, protect democracy, and remove the GOP crazies’ stranglehold that currently prevents Congress from functioning.

For those of us who have felt helpless against the drumbeat of depressing news, there is one thing we each can do: we can encourage everyone we know to register and we can follow up to ensure that they actually vote.


  1. Who won Indiana in 2008? That’s right! It was Obama. To quote Barney Fyfe, “Surprise! Surprise!” It can be done, if the economy is okay. I would be running ads everywhere showing tfg wishing for a recession. In fact tfg’s own words should be used in every ad run by Democrats for the next ten months.

  2. Many of those Republicans who didn’t vote for him (either because they voted for somebody else or sat out) will fall in line and vote for him in the General. Party before country.

    Joe is Hilary 2.0 in their eyes.

  3. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be a subsistence farmer 250 years ago on the frontier of a new potential country, with a family, to leave everything behind and risk dying or worse for the possibility of Democracy? Yet that happened enough times to defeat the greatest army in the world at that time.

    The idea of freedom is still compelling enough, compared to the alternative, to motivate voters to turn out for a few minutes to a few hours and vote.

  4. How can we expect Democrats to turn out for the vote when Trump’s mesmerism of the entire media speaks of no one opposing him or the MAGAs? President Joe Biden is not sitting mute and idle but is performing his presidential duties and responsibilities against increasing odds of the 2025 Trump Fourth Reich retaking the White House to finish his destruction of America. The Republican House slim majority is ruling and dragging the sitting House members of both parties with them; is the Senate far behind in the same action? Already; President Biden is losing the trust and faith of this nation and his hard won reestablishment with our allies globally.

    It is not only Iowa or Disantis’ unsurprising caving to his former BFF; giving full support and overflowing coffers to the home-grown internal enemy of the United States of America. Can Nikki be far behind; will we have to wait till she openly loses her home state of North Carolina to believe this has been the “GOP” plan from the beginning. Probably in 2015 when Trump slithered down that escalator to announce his not surprising bid for the Republican nomination. I watcher the RNC Roll Call as state after state and territory after territory election results were turned over 100% to Trump. That was not the actual result of the Roll Call count; I watched start to finish. I also watched as Rudy Giuliani began his public announcements 3 days before the 2016 election that they had the election won at the state level with the Electoral College vote. How did he know their vote 3 days before the election which ended abruptly and early on that November morning with Hillary Clinton winning the public vote but losing the Electoral College to the highest bidder. Those more than 7 MILLION who voted for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson gave the state elections away; truth-be-told, we will never know how many of those millions were against Trump or Hillary or the reality of how many actually voted for Stein and/or Johnson.

    “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” I see that as “The Real Lesson From Iowa”

  5. The people who don’t always vote make the difference , statistically they are minorities or young people. Neither group sees Biden as having delivered for them. They won’t vote for The Duck; they just won’t vote or vote for a third party. And, in a year of presidential voting, that effects all down ballot races. More and more voters either vote party or nada.

  6. So far it seems like neck and neck Joe and Trump from the people I know will be voting. So really it seems there is a chance that Joe Biden could win if we pick up extra votes. I think my mom was right when she said that some people may not say who they are voting for but when they get in that little cubicle where their vote is private that they will vote for Biden.

    Speaking of Democrats, I’m hoping that Beth White will win the election over Rokita as Attorney General of Indiana. I had a class with her and she seems like a decent person.

  7. I’d take Goofy over Todd Rokita. At least Goofy wouldn’t be trying to hurt anybody.😁

  8. I agree with the notion that everyone frothing over the Iowa caucus results is a trip down a rabbit hole that dead-ends before the tail of the rabbit disappears. BUT the media and the political operatives give this stupid, dead horse a proper flogging to justify their air time and campaign contributions. It’s still all about the Benjamins with these people.

    BTW, Haley is from SOUTH Carolina, the bastion of utter backwardness. See Tim (I am NOT Uncle Tom) Scott and Lindsay (I am NOT a Trump ass-kisser) Graham for prime examples of those kinds of politics. But, as with most “red” states, I feel sorry for the 40 % of good, thinking people whose voices are unheard by the clamoring of right-wing stupidity.

    Yes, the solutions are voter turnout, and if there’s ever been a reason to vote against a rapidly deteriorating psychopath with a diseased brain, it is now and throughout 2024.

    And for those preparing to flee the country if the orange hairball is in fact elected, listen carefully to the emigration doors around the world slamming shut. There will no place to run and hide.

  9. I would be very hesitant about not counting Trump’s victory in Iowa (every county, I believe) as a “real” victory just because turnout is low. He was also polling +30 before the vote happened – sooo, it would have been shocking if he hadn’t won.

    Iowa looked exactly as expected.

    Putting it out there that Trump isn’t “that” popular, may be a bit rose colored.

  10. Oops; thanks Vern for the correction. I need to pay closer attention to the different Confederate states names; so far that is the only difference I have found is in name.

  11. 45 – has diehard supporters, yes. Some – Rep’s – intensely Dislike Joe, so they won’t vote for him. The majority of USians – DON”T want – 45 or Joe. – Joe – is Alienating Young People and Progressive Palestinians/Muslims/Jews in Michigan – a key state – A solid majority of those who Might vote for Joe – have wanted an Immediate Ceasefire for several months – at least. IF the Dems – aren’t working behind the Scenes for a Backup Plan – for if/when Joe Falters. Joe’s supporters do Care – when he Messes up – related both to his Aging and the Fact(s) that he’s just not that Deep – and Deeply Understanding. The “Great Economy” – disproportionately helps many of those who don’t need that much help – and some of them – will vote for 45 – because he favors the wealthy. Back to Iowa – the 6 highest Populated Counties there – did NOT have a majority of 45 Voters – his popularity is in the less populated counties. Playing on Fear – Racist Fears – Fears of Immigrants – Fears of Gays etc. – are easily weaponized. 45 – plays on Fears – and will win – as you spoke of – IF the Turnout is low – Why should young Black and white USians – vote for Joe? Does he show concern and caring for their needs? Old fogies like me – are the “sought vote” so often – instead of the Core of Dem voters – Non-white People. etc. etc.

  12. George Marx,

    Remember the youth “movement” that emerged from the Mary Stonemason Douglas High School Florida shooting massacre? Remember a kid named David Hogg? He and his classmates motivated an entire generation to become activists. Now, those kids are about to graduate from college. Stay tuned.

  13. Vernon – WADR – so let’s see…few new gun safety laws, except in Deep Blue states, gun sales are accelerating especially among young people and women…there have been too many multiple shootings to count…like Obama’s “HOPE”…very little “fool me once….”.

    Just sayin’

  14. Lester, What does WADR mean? Turns out that only about 30% of adults own 90% of the guns… and most of the gun purchases are by white people who are scared to death of the “other”. If you want to keep working topics, you gotta know the details. Yes. Multiple shootings… List who is doing them.

    I fundamentally disagree with your “very little happened…so “fool me once…”. What does that even mean?

  15. I find it very frustrating and dumbfounding that a tiny fraction of voters have a disproportionate influence on candidates running for national office. Those candidates’ responsibilities impact every one of us in one way or another.
    “…every four years, about 80% of eligible voters do not participate in some of the most determinative contests in our democracy: midterm primary elections.” Bipartsan Policy Center

    Suzanne: Destiny Wells is also a Dem. candidate for Indiana Attorney General.

    Lester: More that 20M people are signed up for ACA health insurance, an Obama initiative. The economy of 2008 is well in the rear view mirror, despite the tax giveaway to the uber-wealthy by tfg. For decades Dems have managed the economy better than Reps . Obama served two terms, indicative of voters’ sentiment about his job performance.

    As to actively promoting voter participation, there are many more avenues available to register voters now than ever before, despite the Rep. voter suppression tactics.

    Today, for example, I posted a link to online Indiana voter registration on our neighborhood private FB page. That post will reach a little over 100 people, many more than I would be able to contact in person. I never mention party affiliation, ever. Everyone should have a voice in how we are governed regardless of political opinion.

  16. JD: Thank you for your urging folks to register!
    What did your neighborhood private FB post say?
    Might it be useful for any on us to do this?
    Thanking you in advance.

  17. So we once again note that our relationship as citizens with government is to be decided by arithmetic, speaking of which, I note to ye of little faith that the Dow passed 38,000 for the first time ever just now. Let’s spread the word.

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