Rural Democrats in Iowa expressed a slightly stronger preference for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in this week’s caucuses, but the margins were close. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders was the second-most popular choice of rural caucus-goers.
To conduct our analysis, the Daily Yonder used raw participant totals of the final precinct votes, as reported the afternoon of Thursday, February 6. About 3 percent of precincts are not reflected in our numbers.
(We are not using the first precinct tally, which occurred before the elimination of nonviable candidates. And since we are most interested in the preferences of individual Iowans, we are not using the state delegate apportionments in our analysis.)
In the chart above, Buttigieg’s support is represented by the green bar. Sanders’ numbers are shown in the yellow bar.
The rural results are in the two groupings on the far right of the graph. In nonmetro adjacent (counties outside but adjacent to a metro) Buttigieg held a 7 point lead over Sanders (29-22). In nonadjacent counties (counties that are outside and not adjacent to a metro), Sanders trimmed Buttigieg’s advantage to 4 percentage points (27-23).
Vice President Joe Biden (orange bars) came in third in both nonmetro county categories, tying U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren in nonadjacent nonmetro.
The nonmetropolitan electorate made up a small percentage of the overall caucus participation. Buttigieg’s advantage amounted to only 2,200 participants. Overall, about a quarter of the caucus’ 165,000 participants (again, as of February 6) were from nonmetropolitan counties.
Other parts of the state offered interesting patterns. Sanders and Buttigieg split support in metros of over 250,000 residents. In those counties, Sanders had 27 percent of the support, Buttigieg 26.
Buttigieg had his biggest margin of victory (13 points over Sanders and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren) in the suburbs of medium-sized metro areas.
Sanders was most popular in small metropolitan areas, where he pulled 31 percent of participants, with Warren coming in second with 26 percent. Sanders’ 2,000-participant lead in small metros virtually erased his losses in the suburbs and nonmetropolitan areas.
Former Vice President Joe Biden polled weakly across the board in Monday’s contest. His best performance was in nonmetro counties adjacent to a metro, where he placed third. He tied for third in nonmetro nonadjacent counties. He placed fourth or fifth in the rest of the states’ counties.
Warren polled best in small metros, where she came in second to Sanders.
To look a little more deeply at the results, we ran three other sets of numbers.
First, some interesting differences appear when we sorted candidates’ support by county economic type. Sanders’ best showing in this analysis was in counties where federal and state government employment made up a big share of the economy. Warren also polled best in those counties, reinforcing the thought that the two candidates are competing for the more liberal wing of the party.
Buttigieg had his biggest margin from caucus participants who live in farming counties and recreation counties.
Sanders and Buttigieg were roughly equal among supporters in manufacturing counties and nonspecialized counties.
(We used categories created by the USDA Economic Research Service. You can learn more on their website.)
Next, we wondered if there is a “college town” effect on candidate preference. To examine this we sorted counties into three groups based on the percentage of population that had earned a four-year college degree.
The headline here is that Sanders and Warren tended to gain more of their support from counties with large numbers of college graduates than other candidates. That’s the inverse of the overall college-education rate across the state, and another indication that they are vying for a similar set of voters.
Finally, we examined how 2020 candidates fared based on who won the 2016 Democratic Iowa Caucus in those counties. Not surprisingly, Sanders’ best performance was in counties where he also won in 2016, defeating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Warren also performed best in counties that Sanders won in 2016, a more direct indication of their competition for similar voters.
Buttigieg did best in counties that were tied between Sanders and Clinton in 2016. His second best performance came in counties where Clinton won the 2016 contest.