Americans in Iowa and New Hampshire once again braved inclement winter weather to produce notable turnouts at their “first in the nation” elections this year. The GOP saw its own record caucus turnout in Iowa, while the Democratic Party in New Hampshire saw voters, both Democratic and Independent, produce strong numbers. But there are significant reasons why 2016 should be the final year in which these two states start off the US presidential election process: the difficulties in dealing with potentially dangerous winter weather and, most importantly, the states’ glaringly lack of diversity.
High enthusiasm to vote from all ages and towns littered both states in each party, as long lines and a willingness to wait to be represented was a constant image. The alacrity to cast their ballots – partially inspired by Bernie Sanders reiterating how low US voter turnout normally is, despite Barack Obama’s ushering in a new coalition for the past two elections – was a welcoming sign to see in our democracy, which is dominated by elites and public apathy. It serves as a potential tone setter for a year of steady engagement, continuing for a third straight presidential election cycle and giving both Iowa and New Hampshire claims to keep their prized opening spots.
Nothing lasts forever, however, and it is now time for both parties to sensibly take away Iowa and New Hampshire’s leadoff election status. Seeing voters and election organizers have to contemplate the thought of harsh weather potentially ruining the voting process with a lower voter turnout (or even a postponement altogether) wasn’t a far-fetched possibility in both places. But an even larger, core issue with both the Hawkeye and the Granite State is their electorate not representing a changing US populace.
As of 2014, Iowa is 92.1 percent white. New Hampshire makes Iowa seem diverse, with white people making up 94 percent of its population. Both states’ white populations are staggeringly higher than the national average of 77 percent. These are demographics still mired in a period when the United States didn’t have to care about what non-white people thought. Those numbers are truly unacceptable and unbecoming for states given such an optically salient honor of being first, especially when the United States continues to trend to a majority-minority nation. It’s why arguably the most impressive thing of many from Sanders’ remarkable New Hampshire win was the Vermont senator having some diverse people stand behind him in his victory speech. People of color certainly aren’t easy to find in New Hampshire, that’s for sure.
How Iowa and New Hampshire stumbled into getting glamorous positions in the modern electoral world are always intriguing histories to examine. Spurred on by the Vietnam War and youth movement protests of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party saw how necessary it was to be more inclusive – a funny irony, considering how Iowa’s demographic goes against the state’s inclusion desires now. With Iowa’s intricate election process, it received the honor of being first in 1972 by the Democrats, and in 1976 by the Republicans.
Jimmy Carter was the one who put it on the map with his win in 1976. Iowa’s importance did have a down period in 1988 with both caucuses picking losing candidates Dick Gephardt and Bob Dole, and a real nadir when Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s 1992 win wasn’t even realistically contested (no one bothered to campaign in the state, as eventual nominee and President Bill Clinton received just 3 percent of the vote). But victories for George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 revitalized Iowa’s overall standing, proving that its caucuses mattered.
New Hampshire’s primary has had a much longer history, dating all the way back before the Roaring Twenties. Dwight Eisenhower’s win over Robert Taft in 1952 was the primary’s national breakthrough moment. Sensing that other states wanted to strip the power of it being the first primary, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner was given the power by his legislator to change his state’s primary date to a week before any other state’s date. It was quite the display of legacy chutzpah, but New Hampshire got its wish, with 2016 still having it kickoff the primary process. It fully represented how this has to be the final election cycle for that honor to be bestowed to it and Iowa.
Now, it is a little endearing that Iowa and New Hampshire, far from being considered popular destinations for the entire world, do get frontline attention that they would never receive at any other time. So much of the United States’ attention, day in and day out, is given to both coasts or major cities, causing many states without those characteristics to be constantly overlooked. The globally renowned municipalities, which New Hampshire or Iowa don’t have, are where the majority of the people are and will always be. There’s a romantic element to that which can’t be arrogantly dismissed. But it is time for that to be duly dismissed.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have threatened states with “delegates lost” punishment if states move their election dates past Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s a toxic, undemocratic process decided by elites that really has to cease and desist as a matter of overall common sense. And already, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus has made Gardner angry about taking the state’s glossy prize away, something his counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, seems reluctant to do, despite the demographic push actually favoring her party.
Combining the diverse concerns with the weather worries, there are simply better places to start our presidential election process. Not every state or parts of it will be immune from tough winter weather, but states such as Florida, New Mexico and Arizona would certainly be improved choices on both the inclusion and temperature front than the current two we have.
It would hold candidates to not just be accountable to people of one race, but many. And it would make traveling easier than dealing with the bitter weather that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire always have the potential of encountering.
This should not be perceived of as taking away Iowa and New Hampshire’s first mantle just to give other states their shine. It should be perceived as another example of the United States needing to live up to its promises of truly representing the growing diversity of the US electorate.