Johnson: Why we should stop being first in the nation


Columnist Zach Johnson believes the state of Iowa has no place in batting first in the caucus process. 

Zachary Johnson

It is a hard truth that Iowans must face. It is unfair to the rest of the country that we get to go first in the primary process.

There is a lot of research that shows that Iowa is almost uniquely unqualified to represent the country and not even remotely close to representing the Democratic electorate. We are a state that is over 95 percent white and generally rural, which juxtaposes just about everyone’s definition of the typical democratic voter.

Additionally, the Iowa caucuses award fewer than 1 percent of the total delegates awarded throughout the nation, and yet they seem to have a remarkable effect on the contest. This is of course because of its “First in the Nation” status and the week-ish that it gives pundits to cycle through the results, giving the winner an inexplicable advantage. This would be especially pertinent in this cycle with such a focus on the ever omnipotent ‘electability’ attribute that everyone is going after.

Though, as a selfish individual, I do not wish to stray from this tradition, but keeping it around for tradition’s sake is a mistake for our democracy. Imagine if everything were the same but, say, Pennsylvania or Michigan went first. These two states are considered to be very representative of the country as a whole and would, in theory, produce greater representation in the general election, which would create more acceptable presidents. While the American voter does not always operate under such logic, this sort of change would, at the very least, holding other variables constant, make our government more to the people’s liking.

This would be true even for Iowans, as the person that either party elects is more likely to win in a general. If we use 2016 as an example (and operate under some assumptions that will be used only to prove my point), then we might say that Bernie Sanders was more likely to defeat Donald Trump in the general election. If we take that to be true and also assume that Iowa Democrats would prefer a Sanders administration to the Trump one we have, then we would say that they would have preferred to have Sanders be the nominee, even if the state preferred Clinton to Sanders.

Let us also say that if Michigan had gone first and, like in reality, had gone for Sanders, then the boost he would have gotten from that would edge him to win the nomination and therefore the White House. Then, because a state that is more representative than Iowa went first, Iowa Democrats would get a preferable outcome. 

Letting a state that is more representative of the country go first (or perhaps shortening the time between state elections) would make the process of choosing the nominee much more effective and also more representative of the country and therefore bring more ideal outcomes to the individual party caucuses in each state (including Iowa).