Is Iowa the wrong state to run the Democratic presidential primary?


The Democratic National Committee is upending its presidential nominating schedule, which means Iowa could be kicked out of its position as the nation’s top Democratic nominating contest.

While it will be months before we know what, if any, substantial changes to the calendar will actually apply, it could upend customs about how the primary system has operated for decades. And it could theoretically change the kinds of Democratic presidential candidates who appear viable early in their bid to win the party’s nomination.

Iowa appears to have gone from a purple state to a red state, stripping the state of its value proposition as a strong proving ground for the general election.

As Politico reports, the DNC’s rules and regulations committee voted on Wednesday to open the top positions that lead the primaries to a new application process. The committee said that in reviewing state nominations, it will consider “factors such as racial, ethnic and regional diversity, including a mix of urban and rural voters; ballot access, such as the use of primaries – state-run processes with robust mail-in and early voting built into law in most states – instead of caucuses; and the competitiveness of state general elections.

Experts say this is largely a reaction to what happened in Iowa in 2020. The botched counting process during Iowa’s 2020 Democratic presidential caucuses caused a major crisis, leaving uncertain for days if former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Sen Bernie Sanders had won the widely watched first nominating contest in the race. This error not only confused analysts and voters across the country as they tried to interpret the results, but also damaged confidence in the nomination process as fair and transparent.

That frustration also spilled over into a broader criticism of the Iowa caucuses that had been brewing for years. The year 2020 saw a new wave of criticism from some Democrats that the racial demographics of Iowa — a state made up of 85% non-Hispanic whites — were unrepresentative of the Democratic Party and made the State ill-suited to start the party. primaries. Additionally, the already controversial caucus system has come under scrutiny. Caucuses involve meetings and discussions among voters that can take several hours and typically require a much longer time commitment than voting in a primary. The problem, say critics, is that voters who don’t have that kind of time to spare are shut out of the process. Finally, political scientists point out that Iowa appears to have gone from a purple state to a red state, stripping the state of its value proposition as a strong proving ground for the general election.

The Iowa caucuses have held iconic status in the primary season since Jimmy Carter successfully used a victory there as the launch pad for his long run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. But as David Karol , a political scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, points out that Iowa’s status is ultimately “an historical accident,” since the order of the primaries was never deliberately designed or originally considered meaningful.

Nevada, which was the third state to vote in 2020, could be well positioned to become number one, given its diversity and status as a battleground state.

Prior to the 1970s, primary voting played a much smaller role in determining the presidential candidate; instead, presidential conventions, dominated by party elites, were where most of the real action took place in deciding who would represent the party in its bid for the White House. But rule changes that took place after 1968 to make the nominating process more democratic made the primaries much more important in determining the candidate. And soon after presidential candidates – especially foreigners – discovered that winning the first states could be a game-changer by building momentum for their campaigns.

Early formation can have enormous consequences for the formation of political possibilities. Consider Buttigieg won the most delegates in Iowa in 2020, which generated a ton of buzz and ultimately helped him land a role in Biden’s cabinet — as well as potential hopeful status for 2024. But it’s hard to imagine Buttigieg’s star rising the same way if the top two states had been Nevada and South Carolina, or any other number of states where the Democratic electorate is much larger. diverse, given its difficulty winning voters of color. A slightly different order, and maybe it would be considered an overrated flop instead of a wonder.

In light of this reality, the first states should be chosen very carefully by the party. (In my view, they should all take place at the same time in a national vote rather than on a staggered schedule so that every voter has their say, but unfortunately that seems like a remote possibility at the moment.) 2020, the top four premier states were, in order, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Josh Putnam, an expert on presidential primary rules who runs the political consultancy FHQ Strategists, told me that Nevada could be well positioned to become number one, given its diversity and status as a global state. battlefield. He also predicted that Iowa’s ability to hold on to its place among the pack of early states will depend in part on what kind of case it presents to the party. (There are questions about whether he’ll move from caucus-style contests to the primaries to be more inclusive.) Currently, Democrats in New Jersey, Michigan and Nebraska are racing to join the first batch of states.

It is unclear whether a state is really ideal for preparing the party for a general election. Primaries tend to be partisan-dominated and don’t necessarily provide insight into who swing voters or less-enthusiastic voters are going to bid on Election Day. But I don’t see any strong counter-argument against rotating the first states and ensuring they represent the diversity of the party and the country. Change in this area is likely to be a good thing.


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