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

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.

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

  1. DrJim December 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    I could be wrong, but my impression is that Iowa is culturally different enough that their votes will not be representative of the way other states will vote with respect to economic issues, even if the underlying economy is similar. There seem to be many single-issue voters in Iowa who care more about, say, a candidate’s position on abortion or gun rights than they do about his position on economic issues. My impression is that they frequently vote against their economic self-interest in favor of social issues, so that their voting pattern may not be representative even if their economy is. To the extent the vote in the rest of the nation actually is “all about jobs and the economy,” Iowa still may not be a good test of how voters will or should respond.

    • Michael S. Lewis-Beck December 19, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

      Dear DrJim,

      Thanks for your comments. Your key point is about the role of social issues in Iowa. As I noted, the research carried out by Prof. Squire and myself looked at the three factors that appear to make up most of the difference among the states. The post above concentrated on the Economic Dimension. Another is the Social Problems dimension. How does Iowa look there? In fact, it has fewer social problems than the most Amerian states, e.g., fewer mental health days off, lower incarceration rate, higher level of educational attainment. These things, then, are positive signs of the state’s health, rather than disqualifiers.

      Thanks for your interest.
      the dude abides

      • DrAlex December 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

        Iowa’s economy is better than average now. By the same logic, is this is a positive sign of the state’s health, rather than a disqualifier? It’s not clear to me why the ideal primary state should be economically representative, but socially above average.

        • DrAlex December 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

          Also, some of those factor loadings are rather amusing. I believe it is best practice to name factors after fruit (Apple, Banana, etc) rather than to give them misleadingly suggestive titles. Traffic fatalities is economics, abortion rate is economics and diversity, and percent African American is social problems? 🙂

        • Michael S. Lewis-Beck December 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

          Dear DrAlex,

          Thank you for your comment. There is no necessity that an state have the same score on the three factors. Indeed, that would be quite odd.

          Thanks for your interest.
          the dude abides

          • Michael S. Lewis-Beck December 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

            Dear DrAlex,

            Thank you for your question about the factor analysis. Whenever a factor analysis of a large set of items is undertaken, some generally load higher than others. Those with sufficiently high loadings usually help define the factor. That is the strategy we followed.


  2. DT December 20, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    I have been frequenting The Monkey Cage for quite sometime, and as a political science major set to graduate this Spring from the University of Iowa, I am happy to see that Professor Lewis-Beck will be contributing to the blog. I look forward to reading your future posts!


    • Michael S. Lewis-Beck December 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

      Dear DT,

      Thanks for the support. I am tired of the Iowa bashing.
      You might also be interesting in my December 15 Monkey Cage post, Nowcasting the 2012 Election.

      the dude abides