Reorder the Primaries

The American primaries system leaves a lot to be desired.


courtesy of CNN

In an increasingly diverse country, it’s unfortunate that two less diverse states control the headlines at the outset of the primary election.

Neeti Cherukupalli, Staff Writer

Over the course of the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the upcoming caucuses and primaries. Although winning in one state may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, early victories in primary elections can still have drastic impacts on the overarching outlook of a candidate’s campaign. Voters in primary elections generally look for a candidate that not only aligns with their political views but also for one who is also electable. Due to the combination of a wide spectrum of ideological choices offered by the leading candidates, as well as Democratic voters’ sentiments concerning an extreme urgency to defeat the incumbent president, the 2020 election is a prime example of a time when these goals come into conflict. As some of the Democratic candidates are still struggling to get their message across without being passed off as yet another moderate or socialist, an early win has the potential to serve as a redefining moment in their campaigns, giving them a much stronger and clearer support base. 

While the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries seem long-gone, with both effectively winnowing the field of candidates into a much smaller and more serious group of contenders, the issue arises over whether these states should be the ones calling the shots.

Historically, the results of the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary have had major impacts on the outcome of the presidential election. While winning in either Iowa or New Hampshire may not secure a party nomination, let alone a seat in office, previous results have undeniably succeeded in identifying top-tier candidates and assessing their electability. Although previous presidential candidates have lost in either one of the two states, in the current system, Bill Clinton was the only one to have lost in both and still ended up winning the presidency, serving as a testament to the influence that these states have on the general election. 

graphic courtesy of NPR

Iowa and New Hampshire have long provided a unique opportunity for their voters to shake hands with candidates, ask questions at forums, and attend rallies. All in all, due to the smaller size of both of these states, and consequently, a smaller population, their primaries give voters the ability to familiarize themselves with their candidates one-on-one. This is an opportunity that is largely unavailable, or at least less common, in other states. Having the chance to interact with presidential politics gives Iowans and New Hampshirites the ability to make informed decisions while voting. More importantly, though, it also gives them a significant amount of power in the overall election process. Due to the importance that the current system places on them, both states’ Democratic and Republican chairs defend their roles in national politics, insisting that their “first-in-the-nation status isn’t about party affiliation or identity politics” but rather “the uniqueness of retail politics, and its ability to get the future president to connect with Americans in a way few primaries can.” 

However, as the candidates leave Iowa and New Hampshire after having spent exorbitant amounts of time and money in these two states, the remaining 48 are left to wonder–why them? 

Frankly, Iowa and New Hampshire neither represent America nor the Democratic Party as a whole. 

America has a large and steadily growing number of immigrants, as well as many naturalized citizens, and thus a radically diverse population. Iowa and New Hampshire are the antitheses of everything that the US is and stands for. According to the U.S. Census, New Hampshire identifies itself as being over 85 percent white, while Iowa’s solely white population stands at a whopping 90 percent, as opposed to the nation’s 60 percent. Additionally, even with their populations put together, the two states still make up for a mere 1 percent of the entire nation’s population.

By positioning themselves as first and second in the primary process, New Hampshire and Iowa essentially do a disservice to the vast majority of the nation by propping candidates up higher on a pedestal regardless of the fact that they likely were not the first choice of many other Americans. As previously mentioned, due to the media coverage of the winners of these two states, candidates performing well in states that disproportionately represent the U.S. have had a rather unfair advantage in how well they perform in the general election. By having Iowa and New Hampshire go first, the Democratic and Republican parties are essentially allowing a small, overwhelmingly white group of people concentrated in small cities and rural areas to wield an excessive amount of power and influence in national politics that affect the entirety of the nation. 

Senior Vice President for the Social Policy and Politics team at Third Way, Lanae Erickson claims, “Iowa has had a stranglehold on the process and obviously doesn’t want to give up its first-in-the-nation caucus status, but everyone can now see how messed up caucuses are and how unrepresentative this process is, particularly because there is such a divide between the white secular left and people of color on display.”

To allow states that effectively silence and ignore the voices of communities of color to hold so much power and influence in the election process is simply unjust and ought to be changed.”

Former 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro furthers that both of these states will continually “defend a caucus system that actively diminishes the voices of African Americans and people of color in the Democratic presidential nominating process.” 

Reordering the primary calendar could significantly alter the various candidates’ path to victory. Placing states that are more representative of the nation as a whole in terms of race, population, education level, financial status, and other demographics would give voters living in states whose primaries are held at the end of the line a better idea of the candidates who are truly electable.

Naturally, a state holding an early primary or caucus will grab more attention, thus giving its respective winners more momentum in the general election. However, to allow states that effectively silence and ignore the voices of communities of color to hold so much power and influence in the election process is simply unjust and ought to be changed.