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Iowa Secular Voters Expand Influence Before 2016 Caucus

Conventional wisdom among political commentators has been that, in order to win the Iowa Caucuses, it’s necessary to make a special appeal to zealous religious voters. Barack Obama pandered to Christian Iowans in 2008, as did Republican caucus victor Mike Huckabee. Rick Santorum also won the Republican caucus in 2012 with a foundation of deeply religious voters.

Expect a different picture in 2016 – something less sanctimonious.

Recent surveys indicate that the stereotype of Iowa as a state thick with religion doesn’t match reality. A Gallup survey released just a few days ago, for example, finds that, in many Iowa communities, the number of “very religious” citizens is roughly matched by the number of citizens who are “not religious”.

In the area around Des Moines, the portion of people who describe themselves as “very religious” is only 38.9%, while “not religious” citizens follow close behind at nearly a third of the population: 31.5% The part of the Iowa-Nebraska border near Council Bluffs has a “very religious” population of 40.4% and a “not religious” population of 34.9%. The population of Cedar Rapids that is “very religious” is 37.2 percent, but 39.5 percent of people living in Cedar Rapids describe themselves as “not religious”.

In the caucuses and in the general election, the message for the prospective presidential candidates of 2016 is clear: A campaign strategy that appeals to religious Iowans while shunning the significant secular minority in the state is unlikely to succeed.

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