As Well-Educated Leave, Iowa’s Shift to G.O.P. Is a Matter of Degree

In Education, Voting On
- Updated

CLINTON, Iowa — The Clinton County Democratic Party headquarters is wedged in a nondescript brick building with an unpaved, dusty parking lot. The dated computers, mismatched furniture and portable fan suggest another era. The office is dotted with party mementos, a phone from the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and framed photographs of Democratic presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama.

There is little to suggest a future for the party here in this once reliable Democratic stronghold, at least in races on the national level. President Trump easily carried this county in the 2016 election, and Iowa as a whole; the only counties Hillary Clinton won were in metropolitan areas or university towns.

Iowa’s dramatic change has been both abrupt and a long time in coming. In 2008, the state propelled Mr. Obama to the White House. A year later, it was the first in the Midwest to legalize same-sex marriage. But last November, Mr. Trump won Iowa by a larger margin than he won Texas. And now Republicans control the governor’s office, the Legislature, both Senate seats and three of four in the House.

“Is Iowa still a swing state?” said J. Ann Selzer, who has conducted polling here for 30 years and was almost alone in forecasting the size of Mr. Trump’s victory. She took a moment to answer and seemed skeptical. “You know, potentially. Pundits will probably treat it that way for another cycle.”

Pundits might think otherwise, but places like Clinton and dozens of other small towns like it along the Mississippi River have already gone red, the result of a long economic decline that changed their makeup and eventually their politics. Like many towns in Iowa, they have been losing more college-educated voters than they retain, leaving a less educated and less mobile group of voters more likely to vote for Republicans, whom they see as more in touch with their lives and beliefs.

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