Who would have ever thought that a scheduling complication in 1972 would mean that four decades later, politicians would still have to be photographed with pigs?
Because of the Iowa Democratic Party's new scheduling rules in 1972, Iowa became the first nominating contest in the nation almost by coincidence, thus beginning its mythical status as the state that can make or break a candidate. To some political observers, this makes no sense: the Hawkeye State is small, for starters. It is the 30th most populous state in the nation, with a population of roughly 3 million—a little smaller than the San Diego metro area. Naysayers have a host of other reasons why Iowa should not be the first contest in the nation. Below are four reasons why the critics might be right.
Iowa Republicans Do Not Represent U.S. Republicans
Even though the Republican Party has shifted to the right in recent years, the Iowa Republican party seems to have shifted more right, with many voters having spilled into the libertarian camp. Not a bad phenomenon by any means, but it does put Iowa slightly out of step with the rest of the nation. According to a recent polls by Gallup and the New York Times/CBS News, there are a few notable gulfs between Iowa voters and national voters. One key gap can be seen with Rep. Ron Paul: 8 percent of national Republicans and Republican-leaning independent registered voters support Ron Paul, compared to 16 percent of likely caucus-goers in Iowa. Though registered voters and likely caucus-goers are two slightly different populations, this still suggests a surge of enthusiasm for the Texas congressman that he may not have in many other states. "I expect Ron Paul to do very well [in the Iowa caucus]. He could pull an upset," says Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women an Politics at Iowa State University. But she believes that such a win wouldn't make for national victory for Paul.
"If he for example pulls an upset win in the caucus and he wins, I don't think he'll be the national nominee," Bystrom concedes.
...In Fact, the State Itself Isn't Representative
Iowa is whiter than the rest of the nation, with a white non-Hispanic population of nearly 89 percent, compared to the national figure of about 64 percent. And its black population is less than one-quarter of the national black population share at 12.6 percent. Iowa's foreign-born population is less than one-third that of the rest of the country. And while the state is suffering from the economic downturn, it is also slightly better off than the rest of the nation: its 6 percent unemployment rate is lower than the national average. In their 2010 book The Iowa Precinct Caucuses, Hugh Winebrenner and Dennis J. Goldford also point out that Iowa has a small union presence, no major urban centers, and caucus-goers who are "more partisan and ideologically extreme" than primary or general-election voters.
The Caucus System is Flawed
Some argue that caucuses are by their very nature less fair than the primaries held in most states, because caucus voting is not always secret. This is particularly true of the Democratic caucuses, which also are governed with a set of Byzantine rules. And since caucuses are as much party meetings as they are times to cast ballots, attending can require committing an entire evening to a vote—which may be tough for some who work odd hours.
Putting Anyone First is Unfair
Some argue that putting any state first gives it an unfair advantage—handing it undue influence in the nomination process. In response, some have proposed different nomination systems. Under one proposal, small states would go first, followed by larger states. This could allow for less well-known candidates to gain traction early on. In their 2010 book Why Iowa?, political scientists Caroline Tolbert, David Redlawsk, and Todd Donovan advocate for an open "caucus window," in which any state could hold a caucus, followed by a one-day national primary.