Are the primaries racist?
Okay, I know it’s huge to call the primary elections racist. But to see it, all you have to do is look at two states: Iowa and New Hampshire.
If you don’t know, every four years before the presidential elections, the Republican and Democratic parties hold primary elections to determine who they think should be president. The primaries are basically the election before the big election.
Since 1980, every eventual party nominee – except Bill Clinton in 1992 – has won either the Iowa or New Hampshire primary. And everyone who’s won both states has gotten their party’s presidential nomination. There’s a lot of evidence that if you don’t win at least one of these two primaries, you’re basically not going to be president.
Well, if you look at the hours of primary coverage in these two states, you’ll notice something missing: people of color… like any color.
A recent census poll states that 87% of Iowa and 91% of New Hampshire identify as white non-Hispanics, which even by US standards is really, really white. The entire population of the United States is 62% white non-Hispanic. Iowa and New Hampshire just aren’t representative of America.
“But all the states get to vote in the primaries. It doesn’t matter who goes first.”
Oh, but it does! As the first two primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire have serious clout. Why? It’s kind of like a magic trick.
One: Simply because they’re first, candidates spend a ton of time and money there.
Two: The media then talks about these states a lot because they’re first and candidates are spending a lot of time and money there.
Three: Then when a candidate wins one of these states, the media makes a big deal out of it and voters in the rest of the country think, “Well, here are the serious contenders.”
They won a primary.
Four: This inspires voters and donors to give lots of money to those serious contenders.
Five: Abracadabra! Momentum begets momentum and Iowa and New Hampshire maintain their magic predictive abilities. Kind of a shitty magic trick when you can see the strings.
But what about a guy named Obama being elected president and a guy named Ted Cruz winning Iowa? I mean, how can that be racism?
Look, no one’s saying the people of Iowa or New Hampshire are all racist. But intentional or not, the primary system is an example of institutional racism.
Because even though a black man won the presidency and a Latino man won Iowa, the percentage of people of color in those states is so low that the primary system basically lets candidates ignore the concerns of people of color early on. Simply because they aren’t in those states to voice their concerns.
People of color are thus disenfranchised by not being represented and by having lots of candidates drop out before they even have a chance to vote. Voila: textbook institutional racism.
There has to be a good reason these two states go first then, right? Nope. After 1968 the Democratic Party spread out the primary schedule and Iowa scheduled theirs first because the Iowa caucus is weird and complicated. Since New Hampshire had always gone first, suddenly they became number one, number two. Pretty arbitrary.
Okay… why don’t we just change who goes first? Problem solved.
People have tried but these first two states have solidified their standings.in 2008, Michigan and Florida tried to secure earlier primary dates. But the politicians who pander to Iowa and New Hampshire got them to back down by threatening to take half of Michigan and Florida’s delegates. Half! Seriously?
Iowa even wrote a law that says they have to be first. They basically managed to finagle dibs forever.
What’s the solution?
We could have a national primary for our national election, you know, for the biggest job in the nation, but that makes too much sense. Or, we could at least find more representative states.
According to a recent NPR study, the state whose racial makeup, median age, household income, and religiosity most closely matched the national average is Illinois, followed by Kansas.
While no state is perfect, if we’ve got to do this primary state by state, Illinois sounds like a better and more representative choice than continuing to massively disenfranchise people of color.
What do you think of the primary system? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll see you next week right here on Decoded.