OPINION: The Irrationality of Iowa and N.H. Going First in Presidential Elections

Created: 01 February, 2016
Updated: 16 October, 2022
4 min read

NPR and other media outlets have aired interviews with Iowans on why Iowa always gets to go first. Who goes second gets far less coverage, but the same logic presumably applies. If what some Iowans say is representative of at least half of its residents, most are an arrogant bunch. More disturbingly but not surprisingly, Iowans are not logical.

The Iowa is Best 'Rationale'

Like most empty political rhetoric, there is usually a big disconnect between rhetoric and the real world. The rational for why Iowa and New Hampshire should always go first and second fits that pattern.

For Iowa, one politically active Iowan argues this:

“The real reason we're first in the nation now is because of what we do. We take this real seriously . . . . You know, we ask really good questions. We ask follow-up questions . . . . We look them in the eye like I am you right now. It's real. It's one-on-one vetting of candidates. Are you for real? Not a TV spot, not money — what's in your heart?"

Ah yes, that’s the good old, tried and true, being serious, asking questions and follow-ups and looking into someone’s eyeballs to see their hearts rationale.

Looking into eyes and hearts falls short of former President Bush's more sophisticated looking into eyeballs and souls tactic, but it’s a good start. As Bush put it regarding his tactic as applied to Vladimir Putin: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. . . . I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

That worked out well, didn’t it? Anyway, eyeball and heart-looking is one reason for Iowa first.

Among other things, that vacuous drivel ignores the fact that candidates don’t spend nearly as much time in other states. Most residents (maybe 99%) in most other states have zero (0%) chance to look any candidate in the eye and ask anything.

How many cozy town hall meetings have all major candidates held in California, Texas, Colorado, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Montana, Ohio, Nebraska, or dozens of other states since last June? None is much closer to the mark than 20. Zero is probably the correct answer for every one of those states.

Obviously, the feeble “Iowa is best rationale” implies that since Iowans pay attention, no one else does, thus no other state deserves to go first. That’s sheer nonsense. And deeply offensive.

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Another Iowa first rationale rejects the obvious differences between Iowa and the rest of the country. An Iowan rebuttal to that argument is this:

“Is it fair that Iowa goes first? What's fair in politics? I mean, seriously. Yeah, OK, we're like 97 percent white, and we're really rural, and we don't look like a microcosm of America. But so what?”

Ah yes, that’s the good old rock-solid, undebatable, “but so what” rationale coupled with the “politics isn’t fair” sucker punch. At least the admission of unfairness strikes a chord of reality. That’s one plucked string of the foul harp that rings true.

A third rationale is the good old, “if not Iowa then who?” argument. The painfully obvious answer to that non-rationale is easier than falling off a slippery log: Anyone but Iowa and New Hampshire, even if it is Hawaii, Mississippi, Pennsylvania or Delaware.

An Indefensible, Irrational Process

The enormous impact of Iowa and New Hampshire on selecting presidential candidates is indefensible and irrational. In Iowa, it skews the process at the national level via an indefensibly arcane caucus process.

For Iowa, only 20-25% of the voting age population usually participate in its caucuses. With a population of 3.1 million and about 2.1 million registered voters, a grand total of about 420,000 to 525,000 Iowa voters get to significantly decide who the rest of us get to support.

Those lucky few out of the over 150 million registered American voters have a chance to look into candidates' eyes, see candidates' hearts, ask their questions, follow-up questions and then decide in their cozy, small-state comfort who the rest of us can get to vote for.

To be fair, many or most Iowa and New Hampshire residents may not feel superior about their unwarranted role. Americans are not always blinded by their ideology or morals. Some understand the unfairness inherent in our system of politics.

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With America’s incompetent, corrupt two-party system, things usually (not always) are the way they are because that serves the two parties’ perceived needs. If Iowa forever goes first and New Hampshire forever second, that is because the two parties believe that serves their own interests. Rationality or fairness has nothing to do with it.

Photo Source: AP

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