A possible alternative to the Iowa Caucuses
Few aspects of the country’s culture (along with McDonald’s and Thanksgiving) are as quintessentially American as the Iowa caucuses. Ever since its deft use by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Democratic primaries, it has established itself as one of the most sought after (if not the most sought after) contest in any presidential race (Kamarck). As an avid reader of American politics and history, I was looking forward to watching this exercise of democracy take place this primary calendar (the first that I was acutely aware of). Thus, one can imagine my disappointment as I checked the school’s computer for the results of the caucus, only to find the words not reporting. After the initial confusion, the extent of the debacle made itself clear.
Despite the sentimentality that has become so affixed to the Iowa caucuses, they need to undergo reform. To be clear, basing such an assessment on the technical difficulties of 2020 is irrational as such obstacles are not unique to the Iowa caucus system, has only happened once, and can be dealt with relatively easily. Instead, the need for reform must stem from the intrinsic deficiencies of such a delegate selection system in the state.
First, as is oft-mentioned, Iowa is notoriously unrepresentative of the nation (to say nothing of the party) demographically. As FiveThirtyEight points out, Iowa ranks 42nd in terms of representativeness of the US Democratic electorate due to its disproportionately high percentage of Whites without degrees (69.5% vs 39.7%) and low Black population (4.7% vs 20.4%) compared to the standard Democrat electorate (Skelley). For a party that prides itself on its own diversity and minority representation, this is a glaring discrepancy between ideals and reality. Even if we assume that there exists the perfect state (which is not the case), the caucus system itself is hardly the best vehicle of selection. One of the main points of contention is the lack of privacy and individualization as such a method lacks any semblance of a secret ballot, which was implemented extensively in the late eighteenth century and has been perceived as essential to any free, democratic society. Also, caucuses limit the people who can voice their electoral preference because, unlike primaries, the timing is inflexible and the process is seen as arduous (as Howard Dean once said, no one wants to “listen to everyone else’s opinion for eight hours about how to fix the world”), thus limiting participants to mostly activists and those with more extreme ideologies compared to both the party and general election electorate (Kamarck).
One possible solution is having a Super Pre-day (I’m not good with names) in which IA, NH, NV, and SC all hold primaries on the same day. Not only do these states roughly represent the main regions of the U.S, but NV and SC also have populations skewed to Hispanics and Blacks, respectively (Montanaro). This allows for a more representative electorate as each state poses its own challenges that generally reflect the playing field in November. With primaries, the aforementioned issues with caucuses (timing, fringe groups, voter turnout, etc.) are resolved. As for the disproportionate amount of momentum generated by winning the hearts of Iowan caucus goers, the media coverage and cash boost is far more justifiable with a strong showing on Super Pre-day due to the challenges it poses.
Is winning Super Pre-day more difficult? Certainly. However, it is not necessarily a bad thing. By making the process of winning the nomination more difficult, better prepared candidates (both for governing and winning) are more likely to be nominated. In the previous system, an unheard-of upstart would become the media’s darling relatively easily. If he or she is truly worth the nomination, then, especially in the age of modern telecommunications, he or she has many opportunities to convince the electorate that they are worth their ballot — instead of spending untold time preparing to eat corn dogs at a state fair.
Kamarck, Elaine. Primary Politics. Brookings Institution Press, 2018. Print.
Montanaro, Domenico. “Voters Of Color Are Set To Have A Bigger Say As Democrats Enter A Crucial Phase.” 18 February 2020. NPR. Internet.
Skelley, Geoffrey. “We Re-Ordered The Entire Democratic Primary Calendar To Better Represent The Party’s Voters.” 7 March 2019. FiveThirtyEight.
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