Actually, [According to data from mid-late 2000s] Iowa is Extremely Representative in Terms of its Economy!

by Joshua Tucker on December 19, 2011 · 8 comments

in Campaigns and elections

We are once again pleased to welcome back Professor Michael Lewis-Beck of the University of Iowa, with the following guest post suggesting that Iowa – far from being atypical in terms economic conditions – is actually the most “representative” state in the country in this regard!


[UPDATE: To make explicit what is in the post-below, Professor Lewis-Beck’s comments are based on a 2009 publication. That publication relies on data available prior to the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. For those interested in further details, the publication is available here. The title of the post has also been updated accordingly.]


Before every presidential campaign, there is intense discussion over whether Iowa should retain its “first in the nation” status, in terms of the presidential nomination process. Often media commentators argue that it does not deserve this status. The current front page comments by A.G. Sulzberger (New York Times, December 18, 2011, p.1) are illustrative, asserting Iowa “is an odd staging ground for an election that is often said to be all about jobs and the economy,” since the Iowa economy is decidedly atypical. But is this assessment objectively so, when a comprehensive systematic battery of economic indicators for the American states is examined? Is Iowa an outlier, a decidedly unrepresentative American state in terms of the critical economic dimension? Not at all, according to research Peverill Squire and I have conducted (Lewis-Beck and Squire, 2009). Indeed, Iowa appears to be more representative of the mix of economic forces operating within a state than any other. Below, I explain why.


In our data-gathering, we aimed for an exhaustive collection of relevant and available measures on the economic, social, and political aspects of life in the American states, as culled from reliable documentary sources, such as the Census Bureau. We located fifty-one such indicators, and subjected them to a factor analysis, a simple principal components extraction with varimax rotation . Three factors – Economics, Social Problems, Diversity – were extracted, together accounting for the majority of the variance in the data-set. Of the three factors, Economics was clearly strongest, accounting for almost twice the variance of the next nearest dimension. According to the factor loadings (> .7 ), the Economics dimension is dominated by average pay, per capita income, median household income. Also, indicators on unemployment, gross state product, energy consumption, home ownership, and mobile homeownership contributed to determining the factor, falling near its mean value.


Theoretically, if Iowa is a “perfectly” representative state economy, it should register a “typical” score on the factor: more specifically, it should score at the mean. Given the factor scores (Z) are normed to a zero mean, the alternative hypotheses are expressed as follows:

H0: Z = 0, Representative
H1: Z ≠ 0, Not Representative.

To test the hypotheses we observed how far the Iowa score deviated from the zero mean, in comparison to the other states.


Perhaps surprisingly, the Iowa score (-.02) rests virtually at zero, and nearer that ideal representative point than any other state. (Its rival in “first in the nation status,” New Hampshire, lies away and in the other direction, at .26). On the economic dimension, then, the Iowa representation hypothesis is fully sustained. Once state economies are measured by multiple relevant indicators, Iowa is most representative of all the states. Its cross-section of economic forces, especially within the controlled context of the socio-political factors, best mirrors the general strengths and weaknesses at work in an American state economy. If one state must lead the presidential candidate selection process, then Iowa seems an ideal selection in terms of the economy. Identification of the preferred “first state” with respect to the economic dimension seems paramount, given the abiding importance of the economy for the vote generally in American elections (Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2007).

Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Peverill Squire. 2009. “Iowa: The MostRepresentative State?,” PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 42 (1) 2009,pp.39-44.

Lewis-Beck, Michael S. and Mary Stegmaier. 2007. “Economic Models of Voting.” In Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior, eds., Russell Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann. New York: Oxford University Press.


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