Should Iowa Be First?

Posted: September 27, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog




I arrived late enough to Hillary Clinton’s community forum on Tuesday that I had to sit in the last row of chairs at Moulton Elementary. As I sat, perspiring in the sauna of a gymnasium, waiting for Clinton to speak, the older gentleman next to me commented that there didn’t seem to be many people attending the event from the inner-city neighborhood that surrounds Moulton. What he meant, basically, is that it was the typical Iowa crowd: white. Now that wasn’t to say there was an absence of diversity, but it only took me a few seconds to confirm that attendees were primarily caucasian.

That can’t be avoided in Iowa. The electorate is about as white as chocolate-chip ice cream. According to 2014 Census data, more than 92 percent of Iowans are white, about 15 percent higher than the national percentage. The Polk County data is more diverse with higher percentages of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians, but — hey, you guessed it — still mostly white. As Mike Lupica writes, Iowa is nowhere close to an accurate representation of the United States’ racial makeup. (Granted, Lupica is a sports columnist for a New York tabloid, but he makes his point.)

Racial homogeneousness is one of the caucuses’s primary criticisms along with the foreign-to-most caucus process. People will always clamor for another state to cut to the front of the line, especially when they note how Iowa only comes first by chance. Good luck to those who want a new first-in-the-nation site, though. First, Iowa is a swing state, so it plays an important part in the general election, and candidates want to have roots here for when they return as the nominee. Second, if not Iowa, who comes first? If we’re talking only in terms of diversity, then certainly not next-in-line and even whiter New Hampshire. Everyone would want his or her own state to take the top spot, and the debate would most likely result in “Forget this, let’s just give it back to Iowa.”

On Tuesday, Clinton spoke at one of the most diverse locations Des Moines has to offer: its schools. Sure enough, while I was waiting in line to get into the school, the kids I saw playing on the playground were all of minority descent, either black or Hispanic. However, the kids didn’t attend the event. Clinton enjoys more non-white support than any of her rivals, and she touched on topics in her forum that are of concern to minority voters like neighborhood safety and gun control. The mostly middle-class white Iowans in the crowd who likely live in the suburbs — I’d guess Des Moines fits the mold of these maps — likely weren’t there to hear Clinton’s thoughts on making streets safer simply because their streets are already pretty safe.

Clinton obviously tailors her message to the audience, and her primary message Tuesday was on health care and prescription drugs, not racially charged issues. Bernie Sanders, from very white Vermont, struggles to gain minority support, especially from black voters. From snow-white Vermont, Sanders hasn’t had to make a concentrated court minorities to keep his Senate seat. So it’s not exactly a shocker he’s leading in another white state: Iowa.

Yes, Iowa is not an accurate representation of the entire U.S. electorate. But caucus-haters take comfort: Only three caucus winners have gone on to be president: Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, who technically didn’t even win, finishing second to “uncommitted.” Each state would have its own drawbacks as the starting line for primary season, so why not just keep it here in Iowa? Take it away and you might have trouble, right here in River City Iowa.