Government

GOP hopes outcome mirrors Youth Straw Poll

Liz Martin/The Gazette

Seniors Anna Reinhart (from left), Olivia Schirm and Zach Johansen count straw poll ballots last Tuesday in Adrian Evans’ Advanced Placement U.S. government class at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids.
Liz Martin/The Gazette Seniors Anna Reinhart (from left), Olivia Schirm and Zach Johansen count straw poll ballots last Tuesday in Adrian Evans’ Advanced Placement U.S. government class at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids.

DES MOINES — Iowa Republicans are hoping the kids are all right.

Republicans enjoyed a clean sweep in Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s Youth Straw Poll, conducted online last week.

Pate throughout his four-year term has hosted the Youth Straw Poll, which allows Iowa high school students to cast online votes for candidates in the Tuesday’s election. Pate notes the Youth Straw Poll is unscientific and is not intended to predict election results but instead engage young people in the voting process.

But Iowa Republicans surely are hoping this fall’s Youth Straw Poll results are suggestive of what’s to come in Tuesday’s midterm elections. After roughly 40,000 votes had been cast by students across the state, the straw poll winners in the state’s gubernatorial and Congressional races were all Republicans.

In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds beat Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell, 47 percent to 38 percent.

In Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, Republican incumbent Rod Blum beat Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer, 48 percent to 45 percent.

In Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, Republican challenger Chris Peters beat Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack, 42 percent to 39 percent.

In Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican incumbent David Young beat Democratic challenger Cindy Axne, 45 percent to 37 percent.

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In Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, Republican incumbent Steve King beat Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten, 53 percent to 34 percent.

“I want to thank all the teachers, principals and staff that helped make the Youth Straw Poll possible, but most importantly, thank you to the 40,000 students who made their voices heard,” Pate said in a statement. “This was hopefully a valuable, hands-on learning experience for them, and I hope all of them will continue to be a voter throughout their lives.”

While notably unscientific, the Youth Straw Poll does have a decent record in recent elections.

The 2016 winners matched that year’s general election winners in Iowa in the presidential and federal races.

When the Youth Straw Poll has not matched general election results, typically it has been when the straw poll favored an ultimately unsuccessful Republican candidate.

One notable recent difference was in the 2015 caucus poll. Young Democratic straw poll voters went heavily for Bernie Sanders (54 percent) over Hillary Clinton (14 percent).

In the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Clinton edged Sanders by a historically narrow victory margin.

Youth Turnout

One trend worth watching in Tuesday’s elections and the days that follow is whether young voters participate at a higher rate than they have in the past.

Historically, young voters do not turn out well in any election, but they turn out at especially low rates in non-presidential elections.

Americans 18 to 29 years old have turned out at the lowest rate of any age group — by a wide margin — in every election since 1986, according to U.S. Census data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.

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Roughly 20 percent to 40 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 voted in the elections between 1986 and 2016; other age groups turned out at rates of 40 percent to 70 percent.

Some groups are working to change that trend in this year’s elections, including in Iowa. If they are successful, a significant increase in young voters could have a tangible impact.

Foremost among those groups is NextGen America, started by Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer of California, a potential candidate for president in 2020. According to NextGen’s Iowa chapter, the organization spent $2 million in Iowa alone, worked on 41 college campuses, registered more than 14,000 voters and got more than 20,000 signatures on “pledge to vote” cards. The organization also knocked on nearly 48,000 doors in Iowa, it said.

That final step — getting those young people to actually submit a ballot — is the biggest hurdle in NextGen’s and other groups’ efforts. If they are successful to any significant degree, that very well may show up when the election results are tallied Tuesday night.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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