Thursday, January 03, 2008

Should the Iowa Caucus Influence Us?

Today is caucus day in Iowa. Real people will have the first say in who they think should become our next president. Should what they say influence our decision when it comes time for us to vote? Because Iowans are first, does that mean they're smarter than us and know better?

Political analyst Larry Sabato believes we need to stay focused in reality.
[...] the more immediate need is for all of us to keep in mind legitimate questions about Iowa's system as we watch the results stream in this evening. The press' breathless pronouncements about the "winners" and "losers" should be tempered somewhat by another reality--the deep flaws inherent in Iowa's over-hyped caucuses.
Sabato feels the (1) the caucuses this year are way too early; (2) the caucuses and the state are unrepresentative of the broader electorate; and (3) the rules of the caucuses raise real questions about fairness.

This is what he says about the timing:
Have you met anyone who thinks it's a good idea to start the process two days after New Year's, with campaigning having peaked over the Christmas holidays? Let's remember why this has happened: Iowa and New Hampshire absolutely insisted upon going first, as always. Isn't that a little bit greedy? Aren't there 48 other equal states?
The lack of representativeness:
Iowa, like New Hampshire, is overwhelmingly white and disproportionately rural. African-Americans and Hispanics in the Hawkeye State, for example, number just 2 percent and 3 percent of the population, respectively, and 38 percent of Iowans are located in rural areas. In the nation as a whole, nearly 25 percent of the population is African-American or Hispanic, and a mere 21 percent of U.S. citizens are found in rural localities. New Hampshire is even worse than Iowa, with a population that is 0.7 percent black, 1.7 percent Hispanic, and 41 percent rural. In the Democratic Party--the home of 90 percent of African-Americans and about two-thirds of Hispanics--the disparity is especially significant. The two first states to vote often determine one or both party nominees, yet racial and ethnic minorities will have played a tiny role.
And the unfair caucus rules:
Let's keep in mind that the Iowa caucus requires a great deal from all participants, not least a full evening devoted to travel and meeting. The time commitment discourages many from joining in. Iowa's population is about 3 million, of which approximately 2 million are registered voters. The news media are full of stories about an expected "record" turnout tonight. And what will that record amount to? In both parties combined, there may be as many as 250,000 people showing up for the caucuses, or 12 percent of the registered voters. Therefore 88 percent of Iowa's registered population won't be seen or heard from on caucus night.
Iowa gains monetarily from being first (this has been the most expensive campaign in Iowa history), but beyond that their influence in shaping the presidential campaign shouldn't be taken too seriously. Besides, the winners of caucuses in Iowa have gone on to win the presidency only twice since the caucuses started in 1972: Jimmy Carter in 1976 and George W. Bush in 2000. And neither of those choices turned out to be so good for the country.


abi said...

I'd love to know what the people who dreamed up the Iowa caucus system were smoking at the time.

Lew Scannon said...

You make some good points about the flaws of the caucus system, but it hasn't stopped the corporate media from hyping up the event nonetheless.

abi, I think they was all smoking corn silk, or something.

Kathy said...

Abi, I don't think the values crowd in the heartland smoke, except for maybe some of that corn silk Lew mentioned. ;-)

Lew, the corporate media must be having apoplexy tonight. The candidates they've been shoving down our throats didn't end up in first place, and in some cases they almost fell completely off the radar.

Obama and Huckabee take first, and even Ron Paul got 10% of the vote. It appears that Americans are sending a message that they're sick and tired of the status quo and they want to shake things up a bit.