The year was 1976 and a little-known Georgia governor was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Despite his lack of recognition, he had the novel idea of going all-in on the small state of Iowa. While the state’s small number of delegates is mathematically insignificant, the media coverage of winning the nation’s first contest could result in a large amount of momentum going forward.
Jimmy Carter won Iowa. Then he won New Hampshire, then the Democratic presidential nomination and eventually, the little-known governor won the presidency.
More than four decades later, this strategy persists and the media coverage surrounding the Iowa caucuses has only emboldened candidates to continue the tradition. However, in the backdrop of this election cycle’s Iowa mishap, where the winner of the contest was unclear for days, the state’s role in primary elections deserves reevaluation.
The structure of Iowa’s caucuses and its artificial importance are harmful to the electoral process and the state no longer deserves its coveted role in American politics.
While some have defended caucuses as a process in which deliberation and community result in a richer democracy, the requirement for voters to participate at a specific place and time unsurprisingly produces lower voter turnout.
According to a study by the Harvard Kennedy School, in 2008, when the Democratic Party was experiencing record voter participation, Iowa’s caucuses yielded 4% turnout. Compare this to the average turnout in the same cycle for both primaries and caucuses, which was 19%.
Additionally, as seen in the 2020 caucus, reporting of Iowa’s caucus results can be inefficient and complex. This results in confusion as to who the winner is. This year’s confusion between Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg closely mirrors the situation in 2012 where Mitt Romney was initially declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses for the Republican Party, only for Rick Santorum to eventually be recognized as victorious more than two weeks later.
These are problems with caucuses generally, and they may persist in future contests such as Nevada, whose caucus is scheduled for Feb. 22. However, Iowa itself has inherent issues that render it inadequate for the amount of attention it receives.
In a nutshell, the problems arise from Iowa’s lack of representation. According to an index created by the National Public Radio (NPR) website, Iowa’s difference in racial makeup from the United States overall was more than 50%. As racial politics becomes more important and the Democratic Party’s electorate has become more reliant on nonwhite voters, I would argue that a state that is not racially representative is not viable to hold such an important part of the electoral tradition.
Yet, these qualities are not inherently unique to Iowa, and I believe that a state such as Illinois, which ranked first on the NPR index and has a good mix of urban and rural areas, can accomplish the same benefits that Iowa imparts with fewer drawbacks.
For now, the election has already gotten off to a shaky start in Iowa but people here can still impact the process by voting in the upcoming California primary on March 3.
However, Iowa’s role in the election process is not written in stone, and electoral reform usually arises from mishaps like the one we’ve already seen.
Show Comments (0)