The mind of the average voter during the United States presidential primary season is an incredibly fickle thing. Though some people inform themselves on important issues and every candidate’s positions, many rely on major campaign and media events to help them make their choice.
It’s a problem, and it’s an even bigger one when the first event the media pays serious attention to is inherently flawed.
Primary season in the United States officially began Monday with Ted Cruz’s surprising victory over Donald Trump in the Iowa Republican caucus and Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s neck-and-neck outcome in the Democratic one.
Traditionally, Iowa is the first state to hold primary contests, which determine the candidates who will run in the general election.
Unfortunately, Iowa is a state that makes up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population and is dramatically less diverse than the rest of the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the states with the first three contests, have populations that are far more rural than the U.S. as a whole, according to census data compiled by Iowa State University. This ensures that the national political agenda is skewed in favor of rural and agricultural communities by members of Congress with presidential aspirations, who don’t want to agitate the powerful lobbies in those states.
In 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a ban on gestation crates for pigs – a ban supported by more than 90 percent of New Jersey voters – in an obvious attempt to curry favor with the Iowa pork industry for the 2016 primary. New Jersey is home to only 9,000 pigs, the New York Times reported, while Iowa is home to 20 million, nearly one-third of all pigs in the U.S.
The Iowa caucus is the first electoral event where other voters can get a real sense of which candidates are favored by actual votes, instead of polls.
Because these states represent such a narrow margin of the U.S. as a whole, it is shameful that they garner so much attention every four years and have such a profound effect on the early stages of the nomination process.
Rotating among the states to host the earliest primaries could help eliminate some of the inherent problems in having those three rural states always vote first.
Even though politicians will inevitably continue to pander to the states holding the earliest primaries, at least candidates would pander to a diverse range of voters. Perhaps they would even peddle something that’s beneficial for the country as a whole.
Winning the Iowa caucus is by no means a guarantee of securing the party nomination, but losing big in Iowa all but completely dashes the hopes of any aspiring candidate. If we want an equitable democracy that addresses the needs of all our citizens, we need concrete primary reform to stop the agricultural lobby’s bully pulpit from dictating our national agenda.