Do Media Buys and Registration Numbers Tell the Tale of the Election?

Davis Brown Law Firm

In an election year, and particularly in the final stretch before Election Day, prognostications about outcomes take over your Twitter feed and pour in from every news outlet and pundit blog.  These predictions are based on a variety of data, polling, historical trends, as well as instinct. 

For today’s informed look at where the 2018 election might go, let’s look at a few specific data points. Voter registration numbers, absentee ballot requests (and returns), and where each party is spending money on buying advertisements tells a story of the most competitive races. There are 150 legislative races around the state and 28 look to be competitive from these data points. Details on each are included below.

The Democrats (consistent with Democrats nationally) appear to be executing a suburban offensive and a rural and mid-sized town defensive strategy, while the Republicans (consistent with Republicans nationally) are defending their suburban strongholds while attempting to take ground in mid-sized towns and rural areas.  In both cases, media campaigns are underway in many of the same districts, though there are a handful of districts in which only one party has made a media buy.

Des Moines Media Market

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(Red-R Incumbent;

Blue-D Incumbent)






















Ft. Dodge








W. Des Moines




Madison County


Voter Registration


































No Party






















D Media Buy











R Media Buy






















D Absentee ballots requested/returned

1,670/ 954

2,333/ 1,473

















R Absentee ballots requested/returned

1,169/ 693

1,877/ 1,090

















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Analyzing these data points across the Des Moines Media Market, it comes as no surprise that the competitive races are in the suburbs.  The registration numbers are close with the Republicans having an advantage (in some cases slight) over the Democrats in all but House District (HD) 42 (West Des Moines) and House District 9 (Ft. Dodge). 

Another competitive race can be found in HD 44; this Waukee seat is open due to the retirement of Representative Rob Taylor.  HD 44 is the fastest growing area in the entire state, and the district saw a large increase in Democratic registrations.  However, the Republicans maintain a sizeable registration advantage.  In addition to HD 44, HDs 38, 39, and 42 saw the largest increases in Democratic registration (from 2016) across the state but have traditionally been Republican strongholds.  In all four of these districts, the dynamics of strong Democratic candidates with increasing Democratic voter registrations have made these seats competitive resulting in sizeable investments in TV advertising in all of these races. 

The competitiveness of HD 38 (Ankeny) has also impacted Senate District (SD) 19 (Ankeny), which includes HD 38 as well as a safe Republican house district.  Similar patterns are clear in media buys in SD 19 as well.  HD 9 (Ft. Dodge) is in the Des Moines media market and both parties have made media buys as this is an open seat and seen as a potential pickup for Republicans.

Cedar Rapids Media Market

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(Red-R Incumbent;

Blue-D Incumbent)

HD 55

HD 57

HD 60

HD 67

HD 73

HD 95

HD 99

SD 29

SD 39


Fayette/ Winneshiek Counties

Rural Dubuque

Cedar Falls

North and Rural Cedar Rapids


Cedar County

Rural Linn County




Rural Johnson and Keokuk County

Voter Registration































No Party




















D Media Buy










R Media Buy




















D Absentee ballots requested/returned



















R Absentee ballots requested/returned



















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HD 99, the Dubuque open seat, was previously held by State Representative Abby Finkenauer who is running against Congressman Rod Blum for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.  Given the Democratic registration advantage, it is unclear why the Democratic candidate in that district made a media buy but clear why the Republicans did not. Similar to the Des Moines suburbs, we see a number of suburbs in the Cedar Rapids Media Market in play, including HD 57, HD 60, HD67, and SD 39.  Registration advantage in this media market is split, with HD 57 & HD 99 (Dubuque) and SD 29 (Clinton) maintaining large Democratic advantages, while Fayette/Winneshiek, Linn, and Johnson/Keokuk counties maintain a slight Republican advantage. 

Quad Cities Media Market

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(Red-R Incumbent;

Blue-D Incumbent)

HD 91

HD 94

SD 47

SD 49







Rural Dubuque/

Jackson County


Voter Registration Advantage















No Party










D Media Buy





R Media Buy










D Absentee ballots requested/returned

1,355/ 699

2,129/ 1,394

3,854/ 2,515

2,984/ 1,794

R Absentee ballots requested/returned

1,443/ 872

2,366/ 1,341

3,698/ 2,030

2,533/ 1,408

--> Scroll to see full table data

Republicans maintain the registration advantage in HD 91 (Muscatine), and SD 47 (Bettendorf and Davenport), though it appears Democrats are making a play at HD 91 where the Republican registration advantage is within 100 voters.  Democrats do not appear to be making a play at SD 47 however they have made a significant investment to protect SD 49, Senator Rita Hart’s former Senate seat.  Hart has been selected to run as gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell’s Lt. Governor.

Mason City Media Market


(Red-R Incumbent;

Blue-D Incumbent)

SD 27


Mason City/

Clear Lake


Voter Registration Advantage






No Party




D Media Buy


R Media Buy




D Absentee ballots requested/returned

2,343/ 1,505

R Absentee ballots requested/returned

2,662/ 1,462

SD 27 is currently held by Senator Amanda Ragan (D); she has held the seat since 2001.  Republicans have always maintained a fairly large registration advantage in Mason City/Clear Lake, but Senator Ragan has always received bipartisan support.  Democrats are clearly moving to protect this seat as the Republicans have recruited a strong candidate with high name identification and are seeking to capitalize on their built-in registration advantage.  Interestingly, the absentee ballots requested and returned are running very close with the Republicans showing an advantage on requests and the Democrats on returns.

Sioux City Media Market


(Red-R Incumbent; Blue-D Incumbent)

HD 6

HD 14

SD 7


Rural Sioux City/ Woodbury County

Sioux City

Sioux City/ Woodbury County

Voter Registration Advantage












No Party








D Media Buy




R Media Buy








D Absentee ballots requested/returned

1,692/ 493

1,658/ 539

3,241/ 996

R Absentee ballots requested/returned

2,279/ 622

1,090/ 339

2,531/ 771

In the Sioux City area, Democrats have a significant voter registration advantage in SD 7 and HD 14 while the Republicans have a big margin in HD 6.  After announcing his retirement, Senator Bertrand made the decision in August to run for his third term serving SD 7.  The Republicans hope to retain this seat while the Democrats are looking to pick it up.  The Democrats have a sizeable lead in requested absentee ballots, however the number of returned absentee ballots are close.  HD 6 and HD 14 are very different districts with the Democrats enjoying a large registration advantage in the former and the Republicans in the latter.  That being said, the Democrats have not made media buys in either House district whereas the Republicans have.  The Republicans are clearly looking to pick up HD 14 while the Democrats must believe this is a safe seat or will make a late media buy to protect it.

Moving Forward

As with all things political in the state of Iowa, the Davis Brown Government Relations team will keep our eyes on these ever-changing media ad buys, polling, registration, and absentee ballot information. Pre-election strategy is all about analyzing messaging (media ad buys, polling) and turnout (registration, absentee ballots).  Post-election strategy is all about analyzing the data and developing a legislative agenda based on the outcome of the election.  Right now, we are focused on the former, on November 7 we can start talking about the latter.   

  • Absentee ballot statistics are based on those absentee ballots reported requested/received by the Iowa Secretary of State as of October 22, 2018.
  • Voter registrations are based on those registrations reported by the Iowa Secretary of State as of October 1, 2018.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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