Iowa’s population continues to grow, but not fast enough to prevent the loss of a U.S. House seat when congressional districts are redrawn next year. The U.S. Census Bureau is expected to report Dec. 21 that Iowa’s 2010 population has topped 3 million, an increase from the 2.9 million people counted on 2000. However, other states, especially those in the South and West, have grown faster and will gain seats in the U.S. House where representation is based on population.
For Iowa, it’s the continuation of a long trend. Four representatives will be twice as many as Iowa had when it became a state in 1846. It’s half as many as it had 50 years ago and roughly a third the members of the House at its peak in 1910.
Although no state wants to see its House delegation decrease, the practical impact will be negligible, according to Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University. “It’s not like Iowa swings a lot of weight in the House,” Goldford said. In 1910, both Iowa and California had 11 representatives. Today, Goldford said, California has 53 U.S. House members – 12 percent of the entire House — to Iowa’s five. “So whatever weight Iowa swings is through seniority,” he said. “I’m not sure that one less vote in the House matters so much. Whatever Iowa gets from Washington is going to be in the form of spending earmarks. That’s not a function of numbers.”
But there will be one less Iowan bringing home the earmark bacon, said Tim Hagle, who teaches political science at the University of Iowa.
In election politics, where each state gets an Electoral College vote for each U.S. representative and senator, Iowa’s “haven’t mattered too much” expect in tight elections, such as 2000 and 2004, Goldford said.
“Once the caucuses are over, Iowa falls off the face of the political earth,” Goldford said.
The importance of Iowa’s electoral votes depends on the candidate and how they play into the overall Electoral College strategy, said Hagle. In 2012, he said, President Obama will be expected to carry all the states he won in 2008, including Iowa. However, the dramatic gains Iowa Republicans made in the 2010 election could make that more difficult.
In addition to its first-in-the-nation caucuses, Iowa’s political influence comes from the seniority of its congressional delegation, according to Goldford. In the Senate, Iowa is in good shape. Only Hawaii’s Senate delegation outranks Iowa’s Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, who have 55 years of total service.
In the House, Reps. Tom Latham has served eight terms, Leonard Boswell, seven, Steve King, five and Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, two.
Of more concern to Iowans is the loss of representation across the Upper Midwest, suggested Hagle. Michigan is the only state in the 12-state Upper Midwest region that might gain a seat in re-apportionment.“So it’s not just Iowa, but the Midwest, in general, that’s losing influence,” Hagle said. “That’s where it starts to play more significantly. All the states in the big group are losing are influence to the Southeast, the Southwest and California. Eventually, it has an effect on policies, in terms of farm policy” or other policies that benefit other regions at the expense of the Upper Midwest.