With caucuses on deck, how does Iowa reflect rest of US?

Nicholas Riccardi
Associated Press

Right about now, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, when the nation’s political microscope turns to inspect the small state’s DNA, people start to complain about this quirk of American presidential politics. Why Iowa? It doesn’t look like America, they note. It certainly doesn’t look like the Democratic Party, in terms of racial diversity.

FILE  - In this Jan. 26, 2020 file photo, people cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally in Sioux City, Iowa.

“It’s time for a state other than Iowa to go first so that our nominating process actually reflects the diversity of our country or of our party,” former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro said in an Iowa television ad just before ending his presidential campaign.

But Iowa may not be as different from the rest of the country as some think. When it comes to age, religion, gun ownership — even pizza — Iowa is America’s every state, with stats solidly in line with the national median. Iowa is you, America — sometimes.

Here’s a look at how Iowa is and isn’t representative of the U.S. First, how it isn’t:

Race: This is the most often-cited contrast. Census data shows that 85% of Iowa’s population is white compared with only 60% of the nation’s.

Cost: Unlike many of the Democratic Party’s urban bases, Iowa is cheap. Moody’s Analytics ranks it as having the most affordable housing of any state in the U.S. because its home prices are well below the average for the country while its wages are not. Rent is low, too — the typical Iowan pays only $766 in rent, according to the census. That’s 25% less than the typical American renter pays. Costs for goods and services are low, too. The Council for Community and Economic Research ranked Iowa as the 13th-most affordable state in the nation based on its analysis of price data.

Rural: Iowa is more rural than most of the country — just under two-thirds of its population lives in cities or suburbs while four-fifths of the U.S. population does. But, like the rest of the country, it has been urbanizing quickly. It’s become 12% more urban since 1970, according to census data, which is a faster rate of urban growth than even the most urban state in the nation, California.

Crime: Iowa has far less crime than the rest of the country. Iowa has the fifth-lowest homicide rate in the nation, according to federal data, with 1.7 killings per 100,000 people in its cities. The rate for the U.S. as a whole is five homicides per 100,000 residents. The FBI data may leave out rural regions.

Health: Iowa’s political diet of pork and deep-fried food is notorious on the campaign circuit, but the state’s health outcomes are somewhat better than normal for the U.S., according to a report from the United Healthcare Foundation. The report ranked Iowa as the 20th-healthiest state, relying on a range of indicators, from number of dentists and doctors to cardiovascular and drug deaths.

Beer: Still, Iowans like their craft beer. The state ranks 16th in craft breweries per capita, according to the national Brewers Association.

Divorce: Iowans stick together. Its divorce rate of 2.2 per 1,000 people is the fourth-lowest of the 45 states surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control.

Snow: You probably don’t need a statistic to tell you that Iowa’s colder and snowier than the average state. The state is the 17th-snowiest of all states, according to the National Climactic Data Center.

How Iowa is representative of the U.S.:

Religion: Iowa is famous for the power of its evangelical voters during the Republican caucuses, but the state is typical in terms of its residents’ religiosity. The Pew Research Center found that 53% of Iowa adults say religion is “highly important” in their daily life, the same rate as for the country as a whole. Gallup, too, positions Iowa squarely in the center of American religiosity, finding 64% of residents say religion is very important to them, which it ranks as an average share.

Guns: About 34% of Iowans say they own a gun, which is close to the national rate of 30%, according to Pew. The state is firmly in the middle of all 50 states in terms of rates of gun ownership.

Age: The typical Iowan is 38 years old, which perfectly matches the median age of the United States.

Income: The typical household income in Iowa is $58,680 — just under the $60,000 that is the median across the country.

Pizza: The real estate firm Estately found that Iowa had an average number of pizza restaurants per capita, which makes sense given that its ubiquitous Pizza Ranch chain is a favorite spot for political gatherings.

Musical tastes: Iowa’s most downloaded artist is Drake, who is also the most downloaded musical artist nationally, according to the internet streaming service Pandora.