DES MOINES — It has been called a progressive tsunami, but the impact so far of the Trump “resistance” on voter registration in Iowa is barely a ripple.
Since the election of Republican President Donald Trump, groups like Indivisible Iowa have sprung up, organizing voters, holding weekly events in some communities and swelling attendance at legislative forums and appearances by candidates and officeholders.
So far, it doesn’t appear Trump’s opposition has much increased voter registration. Neither has it caused registered voters to move from one party to the other, or from a political party to no-party, according to numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State.
Indeed, there has been no significant shift in party affiliations when looking at data over the past three years. The GOP share of Iowa voters incrementally grew from 31 percent in January 2016 — just ahead of Iowa’s presidential caucuses — to 32 percent in January 2017 and 2018. Democrats held steady at 30 percent and no-party registration dipped from 38 to 37 percent.
That suggests the Trump opposition is “mostly having the effect of energizing the Democrats’ base,” said Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.
That may well be the case, according to Anna Plank of Iowa City, a founder of Indivisible Iowa, which says it is organized in all 50 state Senate districts.
Instead of a tsunami, Indivisible Iowa might be more like a slowly rising tide that will wash away incumbents in the November general election, Plank said.
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“It feels like it’s moving really slowly sometimes and then I have to remind myself we’ve only been at it a year,” Plank said.
So far, based on conversations she’s had with people participating in Indivisible Iowa, Plank said they are mostly Democrats. Others range from Bernie Sanders-style socialist Democrats to “Republicans who are uncomfortable with this administration.”
If that’s the case, Hagle said, Indivisible doesn’t have to increase voter numbers if it is energizing Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters to participate in the midterm election.
Republicans in Iowa enjoy a voter registration advantage and, historically, have higher participation rates in midterms than Democrats.
“If Republicans are less enthusiastic and Democrats are fired up, a few percentage points change could mean the difference in close elections,” Hagle said.
Secretary of State Paul Pate pointed out Monday that it’s difficult to increase voter registration numbers because more than 90 percent of eligible Iowans already are registered to vote.
The challenge, according to Drake political scientist Dennis Goldford, is whether Democrats can get their voters to the polls. Democratic participation dropped by 28 percent between the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 midterms, he said. Republican voting numbers dropped 14 percent and “no party’ fell 40 percent. The falloff in Iowa was similar between 2012 and 2014.
“So Democrats can talk all they want about a ‘resistance,’ but talk is cheap,” Goldford said. “The question is, will they get their voters to turn out for the midterms in November? Republicans — perhaps because they are older, less likely to move from state to state and city to city — take voting more seriously than Democrats and independents do.”
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The big question about the midterm elections is what the no-party voters will do, said Chris Larimer, associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa.
“I always feel like we only get half the story because we know so little about the preferences and enthusiasm of no-party voters,” he said.
Whatever Indivisible and similar groups do to get Democrats and Democratic leaners to the voting booth could make a difference, Larimer added, because “because elections are less about persuasion and more about mobilization.”
The stability of the voter registration numbers with no apparent shift away from either the GOP or no-party suggests to Pate “there doesn’t seem to be a big pushback by voters whether against Trump or their congressman.”
“We’re not seeing any big anti-government movement,” he said. “But it’s still early.”