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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Caucuses give Iowa unfair edge

With Iowa a few days behind us and all the candidates and pundits descending on New Hampshire for the second primary of election season, it’s time for the American political system to take a meaningful look at Iowa’s entitlement, or lack thereof, to holding the first votes of 2016. It’s nothing against Iowans or the state of Iowa itself, but the disproportional and outrageous influence of one state is a mockery of American democracy.

Iowa has a population of approximately three million people, making it the 30th most populous state in the U.S. Not only is Iowa’s population small, it’s overly representative of whites, evangelical Christians and the elderly.

Arizonans, and really everyone besides Iowans, are sick of voting in primaries that don’t seem to matter.

Put another way, Iowa is under-representative of people of color, young people and less religious populations. This year, 91 percent of the Iowa caucus goers were white, leaving people of color (primarily blacks, Latin Americans and Asians) at a combined 9 percent.

In addition to problematic demographic distribution, the economy of Iowa is also relatively unique, which is why ethanol subsidies and other national policies friendly to the Iowan farming industry have continued to exist. For decades, politicians have been terrified to change the status quo for fear of causing a backlash in the next primary system.

The birth of the Iowa caucuses and the costly circus that accompanies them can be traced back to the Democratic primary of 1976. Jimmy Carter, a widely unknown Democrat of the time, decided to campaign in Iowa in hopes of boosting momentum for the New Hampshire primary, which was previously the more important primary. For weeks, Carter canvassed Iowa appealing to every primary voter while his better-known opponents continued to campaign nationally and in New Hampshire.

The plan worked and Carter’s second-place finish in Iowa propelled him into a successful primary run and eventually a national victory. Ever since the 1976 election, candidates from both parties have used Iowa as a springboard for national ambitions.

One of the major problems with this system is that Iowa has frequently been a specious predictor for the rest of the year’s primaries.

Other than a few notable exceptions—Carter in 1976 and President Barack Obama in 2008—the winners of the Iowa caucuses, or at least the candidates who emerge with the most momentum, have ended up losing the nomination.

This is especially true of the Republican party. And it’s not a coincidence.

The demographics mentioned above have a lot to do with this phenomenon. Because of Iowa’s more evangelical and conservative tilt, Republicans who are often too conservative for the rest of the country end up winning in Iowa.

Mike Huckabee won in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012 and Pat Robertson came in second in 1988. All Iowa does is create momentum for candidates for whom the rest of America won’t vote and prolongs, or even alters, the national conversation in ways that wouldn’t happen under a different primary system.

It’s too soon to tell how accurate the caucuses were for this election, but already the national conversation has shifted dramatically because of the way approximately 350,000 Americans, or about .125 percent of the country, voted.

Ted Cruz has more momentum than anyone, Marco Rubio will likely pick up endorsements and donations because of his third-place finish and Bernie Sanders is now considered to be performing as well as Hillary Clinton, despite finishing in a tie with an Iowa electorate who couldn’t have been friendlier to Sanders.

There are numerous ways to reform the primary system, but there’s one in particular that seems to do an adequate job of balancing regional interests with maintaining fairness. It’s called the Interregional Primary Plan and it divides the country into six regional primaries. Each region would have one election night between March and June, but the regions would alternate orders so that a different region would get the first ballots every four years. This would ensure that presidential campaigns would focus on a variety of regional interests rather than bestow a disproportional influence on one or two states.

Arizonans, and really everyone besides Iowans, are sick of voting in primaries that don’t seem to matter.

It’s time to stop allowing one state to dictate the political narratives of an entire election and create a more equitable and logical system.

Follow Jacob Winkelman on Twitter

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