Commentary

Media Cite Unnamed Critic To Dismiss Iowa As 'Too White,' 'Too Rural'

Bill Hobbs
By Bill Hobbs | January 3, 2012 | 2:06 PM EST

As Iowa voters head to their caucuses tonight, some in the media are asking if Iowa is "too white, too evangelical, too rural" to accurately represent the political views of the country as a whole.

That's how NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell phrased it while interviewing Republican strategist Mike Murphy. Now, Mitchell wasn't making that charge herself, of course. She was merely citing unnamed "critics" who hold that view, she said.

As was the New York Times' A.G. Sulzberger, who in mid-December wrote this: "Iowa has long been criticized as too much of an outlier to be permanently endowed such an outsize influence in shaping the presidential field. Too small, critics say. Too rural. Too white."

The unnamed critic certainly is getting a lot of media coverage these days. But the issue isn't who the critics are - but whether the criticism itself is true.

Is Iowa too small, rural, Christian and white to be a fair representation of the country?

Iowa's population is small - it’s the 30th most populous of the "57 states" Pres. Obama says he's visited. It also is more rural than urban, mostly Christian and 91 percent white.

The state also voted for Barack Obama in 2008 - he won the state by 9 percentage points over John McCain. The percentage of voters who were white: 94.4%.

In 2004, George W. Bush only won the state by six tenths of one percent, mirroring the closeness of the race nationally. Iowa went for Al Gore by an even smaller margin in 2000, again mirroring the closeness of that race nationally.

So, while the state may be smaller, less urban, whiter and more Christian than the national average, in recent elections it has reflected the national political mood quite well.

Still, "critics" say it isn't a good representation of the nation as a whole. And they may be right.

The Christian Science Monitor notes that, according to the US Census Bureau, Iowa is 91.3 percent white while the US as a whole is 72.4 percent white. Iowa’s population is 2.9 percent black, compared to 12.6 percent for the whole US, and Latinos make up 5 percent of the state versus 16.3 percent of the US.

"There is no denying that the Hawkeye State is something of an outlier here. But race and ethnicity are not the only factors that determine whether a state is representative of the US as a whole. It may not be the most important, either, politically speaking," says the Monitor. "On other demographic measures – income numbers, union membership, seat belt use, high school graduation rate, and so forth – Iowa is much more like the rest of the nation."

In fact, Iowa is the 12th-most representative state, say political scientists Michel Lewis-Beck of the University of Iowa and Peverill Squire of the University of Missouri. In 2009, they took 51 different indicators of social, cultural, political, and policy activities and measured how Iowa compared with the rest of the US, including such things as state average income, consumption of alcoholic beverages, percentage of vanity license plates, and voter turnout. Their report concluded that while Iowa is whiter and older than other states, on most everything else, it was among the more average states in the US.

But let's let the critics win this one - let's have the media declare Iowa to be too this or that to accurately represent the views of the American people as a whole. Let them instead report on how Barack Obama is doing by camping out in the state that is the most-representative state, at least according to political scientists Lewis-Beck and Squire.

That would be Kansas.

Where, according to the latest SurveyUSA poll, Romney leads Obama by 9.

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