Staff Columnist

Iowa's underwhelming GOP exodus

Republican voter registration is down since the Capitol riot. Will it matter?

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as supporters of President Donald T
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

In the weeks following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, a surge of headlines from around the nation pose similar questions — will Donald Trump’s belligerent mob turn voters away from the Republican Party?

Maybe igniting a violent challenge against legitimate election results, after everything else Trump has said and done, would finally be the straw that breaks the elephant’s back.

In Colorado, 4,600 Republicans changed their party status the following week, Colorado Public Radio reported. About the same number in Pennsylvania switched from Republican to Democrat, according to WESA of Pittsburgh. More than 5,000 Republicans in Arizona switched, per ABC News. Those states already were trending blue, and the deadly spat seemed to accelerate it.

DemocratsRepublicansOtherAll voters
January 2021700,426727,975696,4972,124,898
February 2021698,870724,939700,3572,124,166
Change-1,556-3,0363,860-732

In Iowa — a red state staying red — the GOP shed about 3,000 active registered voters in January. That alone is not necessarily indicative of a sizable departure since voter lists undergo routine maintenance, removing inactive voters from the rolls.

But compared with the change in total active voters, Republicans’ January downturn was the largest since at least 2015. While the total number of Iowa voters dropped over the month and Democrats also lost voters, those were modest in comparison. The decrease in active Republicans was four times as large as the decrease in total active voters for the month, while independents made gains.

In Linn County — the second-largest in the state in terms of both population and number of Republicans — the auditor’s office reported GOP ranks dipped by more than 200 in January.

Most switched to other parties or to no-party, but a few sought to get out of the voting business altogether. The day after the riot, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said, his office received several calls from people who wanted to cancel their voter registration altogether. Typically there are only a couple of those requests in a year, he said.

Miller — who was elected as a Democrat, but has also recently been an independent — attributes the registration shift on the storming of the Capitol. The week after the incident, his office tweeted, “Since the Insurrection, 158 voters changed their party affiliation from Republican to another party. 14 voters changed their party to Republican.”

These snapshots of voter data are consistent with the theory that the storming of the Capitol turned voters away from the Republican Party. Yet the Iowa figures don’t suggest those voters are flocking to the Democratic Party instead.

While the drop in GOP voters is discernible, it’s hardly an exodus. The portion of Iowa voters who are registered as Republicans remains near its recent peak of around 34 percent. The 3,000 voters lost last month is less than half a percent of Iowa Republicans.

Nationally, at least 30,000 registered Republicans have changed parties since Jan. 6, the Hill reported in late January. The real number is likely larger since some states do not regularly post detailed figures. But even if it’s much larger, it still would be a small fraction of all Republicans.

Assuming we are seeing a slump in GOP affiliation, we still don’t know what’s behind it.

Anecdotally, at least a few of the party switchers say it was in protest of Trump and his supporters’ actions on Jan. 6. But given the former president’s posturing about starting a new political party, it could also be die-hard Trumpists leaving the party in protest of congressional Republicans who didn’t go far enough in subverting the election.

“Based on what we’ve heard from Iowans across the state, it’s more likely they’re abandoning the GOP because the GOP abandoned President Trump on Jan. 6,” wrote the Iowa Standard, a pro-Trump website.

So, the data is incomplete and the motivations are unclear. Reports of the Trump Party’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.