Why should Iowa, a state that is not representative of the Union as a whole, have such a significant influence on the presidential elections?
Every four years, Presidential campaigns flooded Iowa with the goal of gaining momentum and establishing themselves as a front- runner in the presidential primary process. Major candidates spend so much time in small Iowa towns, arguably even more than big cities in other states. Like many Luther students, I have personally benefited from the disproportionate amount of attention as I have been able to see presidential candidates up close and in person. But beyond the massive amount of political attention, Iowa can shape the entire Presidential primaries and the general election. While success in the Iowa caucus does not necessarily mean that a candidate will be successfully going forward, candidates have catapulted themselves onto the national stage, like Obama did in 2008. But why should Iowa, which is one of the least racially diverse states in the U.S., have such a significant influence on the Presidential election?
The most common argument I hear for why Iowa should be first is that it is a state with great political engagement. Sure, voter turnout in Iowa is higher than the national average and there are exciting rallies throughout the state. But this political engagement is not unique to Iowa. Some of this engagement may also be due to the fact that presidential candidates are constantly rolling through towns. In other words, it is hard not to be engaged when towns are bombarded with presidential campaigns and candidates.
It is no surprise that Iowa lacks diversity. In terms of racial diversity, Iowa is one of the least diverse states, and probably other categories as well but I cannot confirm this claim. Iowa is 91 percent white whereas the U.S. is about 77 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Iowa is also far more rural than most states. And while rural issues like health care access, broadband, and agriculture are all very important, they are not problems that the majority of people in the U.S. to face. This is not to say that rural issues or Iowans interests should take a backseat in the national political discourse. However, putting Iowa first in the primary process prioritizes the interests of a specific demographic: rural white folks.
Iowa being the first state in the primaries is an extension of how the U.S. Presidential elections, both the general and primaries, are structured in a way that favor smaller and predominantly white states. Gearing elections towards the interests of states that consist of primarily white anglo-saxons hinders the progress and interests for other groups of people.
The first primary should take place in another state that more closely mirrors the racial and cultural diversity of the U.S. States such as Illinois, California, or Florida are better suited to host the first primaries because they are more representative of the US as a whole. It seems that we have become obsessed with ensuring that small states, who are overwhelming white, can augment their influence in the political process. That somehow these states are entitled to an electoral advantage because they are small, yet this line of thinking can undermine the political interests of the larger U.S. population as a whole.
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