Iowa is one of just is one of just 14 states that allow “straight ticket” voting — letting Iowans check a single box on the ballot to cast a vote for every candidate from one party. Drake University political science professor Arthur Sanders suggests the option fits with voting trends.
“As our political system has become more polarized, we find less split ticket voting,” Sanders says. “People are much more likely now to be consistently Republican or consistently Democratic.”
According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, for example, 43 percent of the ballots cast in Linn County two years ago were “straight ticket” voters. Data isn’t available for all 99 counties, but for the 81 counties that did, about one-quarter of the ballots in the 2014 General Election in those counties came from “straight ticket” voters.
Sanders says incumbency is a major factor that leads to “split ticket” voting. For example, in 1990 Republican Governor Terry Branstad beat his Democratic opponent by 22 points, while Democratic Senator Tom Harkin won reelection that same year by nine points. Since there’s an open Senate race in Iowa in 2014, Sanders says a decisive Branstad win “could” help the Republican candidate, Joni Ernst.
“Coattails? The best political science evidence we have is that coattails can matter under certain kinds of elections under certain kinds of circumstances,” Sanders says, with a laugh.
Democrats like Bruce Braley are counting on the Democratic Party’s effort to get Iowans who are less inclined to vote in non-presidential elections to cast a ballot this year. Democrats have 35 “field offices” around the state for their outreach to prospective voters. Republicans have 13, aided by the outside group “Americans for Prosperity” which has five other offices around the state from which it is deploying vote-seekers.