Why Iowa?

It is very odd that, election cycle after election cycle, the same handful of states play an outsized role in the presidential selection process. Here in Minnesota, our preferences apparently don’t matter–has there been an election in modern times in which Minnesota’s electors have been chosen in time to make a difference?

In recent decades, the first state to vote, via caucuses, has been Iowa. Iowa has thereby pulled even with New Hampshire, which has held, for as long as I can remember, the first presidential primary. So, why do Iowa’s voters have all the luck?

Why not? asks our friend Jon Lauck, at the Claremont Institute’s web site. Jon reviews three recently published books on the Iowa caucuses, and concludes that Iowa does, indeed, have virtues that justify its prominent role in presidential politics:

[M]isgivings about the justification for Iowa’s prominent place in the nomination process have often been expressed, especially by coastal critics who question Iowa’s representative-ness. Winebrenner notes, for example, that Iowa has a strong agrarian cast and that it has fewer minorities than other states. In response to this critique, Redlawsk’s new analysis of the 2008 vote found that caucus-goers were demographically similar to non-caucus-goers; that Iowa is economically similar to the rest of the country; and that Iowa is “essentially the most average of states.” The charge of activist domination occasionally leveled is also questionable. In 2008, caucus-goers said they were drawn by “candidates and issues” and 75% said they were not “particularly active in their party.” Why Iowa? notes that 95% of respondents to the authors’ telephone survey said they caucused because it was “the right thing to do,” meaning their participation was fostered out of a sense of civic duty. The caucuses also forced candidates to interact with the voters. In 2008, 56% of caucus-goers had actually met a presidential candidate.

Why not, indeed? If we were to choose another state to lead off the presidential parade, we would most likely do worse.


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