The Iowa Caucus Is Undemocratic

Attendees at the 2016 Iowa caucus ( Image )

Attendees at the 2016 Iowa caucus (Image)


The 2020 Iowa caucus will take place in just under a year, and those who have announced bids for the White House are already scrambling to establish a presence among party leaders and voters in the state. In addition to Elizabeth Warren’s first campaign stop being in Iowa, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are among the Democratic contenders who are racing to secure the support of local party members by various means. Candidates have regularly employed this strategy since Jimmy Carter’s successful 1976 campaign, with the idea being that a strong showing at the very start of the election cycle provides a solid indication of who each party’s nominee will be. There has historically been a strong correlation between candidates who win the Iowa caucus and those who clinch their party’s nomination. To be certain, the Editorial Board holds no ill will for the Hawkeye State. However, it has become abundantly clear in recent cycles that an inordinate amount of electoral power is granted to relatively small and unrepresentative populations. States like Iowa and New Hampshire, simply by virtue of their place in the early stages of process, are examples of such communities — and likely to the detriment of those who will vote later.

Iowa accounts for roughly one percent of the U.S. population and sends about that same percentage of all delegates to the national conventions, where the presidential nominees are selected. It is neither politically nor demographically representative of America as a whole (the state is 90% white). Iowa’s top spot on the list of the primary schedule grants it an undue influence on the electoral process. It would benefit the entire electorate if other states challenged for some of the clout Iowa currently wields, especially those that are more representative of the rest of the nation.

The two largest contiguous U.S. states, California and Texas, announced near the end of 2018 that they will be moving their primaries up to Super Tuesday, on March 3, in order to give their states a greater say in who the 2020 Democratic nominee will be. Though Super Tuesday comes a month after the Iowa caucus, early voting in Texas and California will overlap with some of the first few primaries, including those held in New Hampshire and Nevada. This means that candidates will have to redirect some of their attention to these states that have adjusted their primary dates — and that ought to be taken as a move in the right direction. Not only are California and Texas the two most populous states in the country, they are much more ethnically diverse and would provide a stronger voice to Hispanic and black Americans during the primaries. It is in states like these, at least partly, that candidates should face their first test in seeking the presidency. A candidate would better exemplify their strength and approval for office by winning a plurality vote from a large, heterogeneous, population than through the atypical circumstance that is the Iowa caucus.

Some argue that allowing less populous states to go first in the primary process is good for the underrepresented voter and healthy for our democracy; it allows smaller states to amplify their voices in choosing the leader of our nation. It is good and well that Iowans should want a say in who is president. They should not, however, have the first (and, as historical trends show, sometimes the final) say in who becomes the party’s presidential candidate. The American government was constructed with institutional features that compromise for the limited power of smaller states. Still, these states’ protections should not extend to disproportionate power in deciding the executive course of the entire country. In fact, no one state should wield that power alone. Elevating Iowa to the dominant station that it has held for decades in electoral politics actively dilutes the voice of the American people. The moves by California and Texas to place themselves at the front are positive steps towards making the nomination process more indicative of the beliefs of a wider cross section of Americans. We can only hope the procedure will continue to correct itself.