Residents of Iowa and New Hampshire have long taken pride in having the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus and primary, respectively. How well candidates do in those early states usually makes or breaks a campaign. Which naturally begs the question: is it fair that two small, homogeneous states have so much power? While Iowans and New Hampshirites consider the advantage of pre-screening candidates for the rest of the country something like their birthright, the rest of the country often see them as spoiled — politicos joke that no one will vote for you in Des Moines or Concord unless you’ve had coffee in their kitchen three times.
Yesterday the New York Times’ David Leonhardt pointed out that the absurdly disproportionate influence of Iowa and New Hampshire seriously undermines the democratic concept of “one man, one vote”:
Two economists, Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff, set out a few years ago to determine how much Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states affected presidential nominations.[...]
The economists estimated that an Iowa or New Hampshire voter had the same impact as five Super Tuesday voters put together. This system, the two men drily noted in a Journal of Political Economy paper, “represents a deviation from the democratic ideal of ‘one person, one vote.’ ” [...]
The two states have dominated the nominating process for so long that it’s easy to think of their role as natural.
But it is not natural. It’s undemocratic, in fact. It is unfair to voters in the other 48 states. And it distorts economic policy in several damaging ways.
The most obvious example, Leonhardt writes, is that every lawmaker with future presidential aspirations (that is to say, almost all of them) will always vote to protect pointless and expensive ethanol subsidies because Iowans basically make it a prerequisite of getting their vote. This year, Republican candidates are moving farther to the right and disavowing moderate positions in no small part because Iowa primary voters are more conservative than their national counterparts.
While candidates lavish attention on a small group of primary voters in New Hampshire and Iowa in endless kowtowing to “retail politics,” millions of voters in other states don’t get the chance to have their voices heard before front-runner candidates already seal their position. In other words, candidates have little incentive to know or care about the preferences of voters in states that are bigger, more diverse, and more representative of national opinion.
This leaves the other 48 states jockeying for position to try to increase their own influence in presidential primary elections. But Iowa and New Hampshire residents — and the national politicians who pander to them — have proven fiercely protective of their position in the primary calendar. In 2008 two states — Michigan and Florida — were penalized by the DNC for moving up their primary dates: Democratic primary voters in those states were effectively disenfranchised when half of their delegates were not seated.
Leonhardt’s article is a good reminder that the order states vote in is completely arbitrary but has enormous consequences on which candidates end up having the most powerful position on earth.