Earlier this month the Globe Gazette ran an article headlined “Iowans have progressive policy views but often elect conservatives, survey finds.”
Results indicate the majority support raising the minimum wage, reinstituting a state-run Medicaid system, restoring collective bargaining rights for public employees, increasing funding for education, tightening gun policies and protecting the environment.
DES MOINES — Iowans tend to have progressive views on issues but often vote for conservative politicians, according to the findings of a poll …
Such policy sentiments would seem to favor Democratic candidates, yet these voters chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton 49 percent to 41 percent and Kim Reynolds over Fred Hubbell 50 percent to 47 percent.
And while two Democrats edged out Republican incumbents for U.S. House seats, Iowans statewide supported Reynolds while returning Republican majorities to both houses of the state legislature.
So what gives?
First, poll results in general need to be viewed with healthy skepticism.
The poll was commissioned by Progress Iowa and conducted by Public Policy Polling, both of which lean decidedly to the left.
Samples may well have been selected, questions phrased and interviews guided so as to achieve a desired result, a tactic frequently employed by groups across the political spectrum.
Yet even taking the results at face value, there is another explanation for the seeming dichotomy.
Polls such as this one seeking respondents’ views on a variety of issues often fail to consider the weight individuals place upon each issue.
Based not on polling or science, but rather limited observation and intuition, I believe the latter lies at the heart of the current Republican advantage in Iowa.
On each side of the aisle is a core group of ideological purists (extremists?) who consistently adhere to liberal or conservative principles regarding a broad array of topics.
Most others lack a consistent guiding philosophy, but instead consider each issue based on their personal experiences, values, priorities and biases.
These folks often don’t vote for the candidates who agree with them on the most issues, but the ones who agree with them on the issues they care about most.
Those who are staunchly pro-life, for example, believe an embryo at conception is morally equivalent to a fully developed human being.
If this is their top issue, they’d much rather support a candidate who may have met with Nazi sympathizers than one who supports the ongoing American “holocaust” in which millions of infants are “murdered” each year.
Gun-rights advocates likewise believe “common-sense” gun laws would lead only to inconvenience and expense for law-abiding citizens while doing little to diminish crime.
Many would never vote for a candidate who espouses gun control and view even pro-Second Amendment Democrats with suspicion.
Similar sub-groups of voters are motivated primarily, if not completely, by their stances on taxes, regulations, immigration and a host of other issues.
While present to some extent on both sides of the isle, the width and depth of this single-issue-voters coalition is significantly greater for Republicans.
As such, there are only a relative handful of uncommitted voters in play.
Given Iowa demographics, even these pliable voters are likely to be older, more rural and less diverse than the national average.
Although not strongly politically conservative, many are thus likely old school enough to be more comfortable with candidates who would have government do too little rather than too much.
This leaves Democrats playing from behind and facing a political catch-22.
The best course on one hand would be to choose candidates with centrist viewpoints who would appeal to moderate progressive Iowans without coming across as “too liberal.”
Yet given only about half of eligible voters choose to do so, such candidates would risk failing to energize the all-important liberal base.
So what’s the solution to this dilemma? I have no idea, but Democrats have two more years of Republican home cooking in Des Moines to choke down while they try to figure it out.
Tim Ackarman, a regular columnist for the Globe Gazette, lives in Miller.