How Two White States Choose Our President

The most diverse presidential field in American history is being pared down by predominantly white, male, and older handful of voters. Awesome?

welcometonh.jpgThere’s something both disconcerting and fitting about Iowa and New Hampshire setting the tone for the entire nation during a presidential election.One state is flat. The other is not. They rank among the least populous states in the nation (30 and 41, respectively). Both are frigid cold this time of year and predominantly white – white snowy landscapes; white yogurt in New Hampshire and Iowa white corn; and all the white you need for the world’s largest Wonder Bread sandwich.

That two of the least diverse, more rural states were the presidential pace cars for the country during the homogeneous 1970s made some sort of sense. On the surface, America still lived in a Betty Crocker dream world.

Times have changed. Even the updated 1996 version of Betty Crocker is an amalgam now.

Even the candidates for president are diverse.

This election cycle boasts – for the first time – a female candidate; two African-American candidates (including a viable candidate); a Hispanic-American candidate; a Mormon and a Southern Baptist minister; a made-on TV minor celebrity; a war hero and torture victim; a libertarian dressed in Republican clothing; and an Alaskan. Hell, one candidate’s father was a Nigerian Muslim.

Talk about different.

The most diverse presidential field in American history is being pared down from 16 to something less than half that by a predominantly white (not to mention predominantly male and predominantly older) handful of voters.

In Iowa, about 350,000 people turned out for the January 3rd caucus. In 2004, upwards of 70% of Iowa caucus goers were over 50 years of age. Talk about your proverbial drop in the bucket.

rp.jpgToday, six days later, New Hampshire gets into the act. In sheer numbers, at least New Hampshire manages to act democratic – no one has to stand up in their neighbor’s living room and announce that they’re supporting Ron Paul.

And, like Iowa, New Hampshire primary voters aren’t the most diverse bunch in the nation – the state is 93% white. But upwards of 25% of expected voters in the primary will be first-time primary voters – and almost half of New Hampshire’s 1.3 million residents are relative newcomers to the Granite State, arriving since 1987.

That a few hundred thousand people in two fairly unrepresentative states have the power to eliminate half of the presidential field in the span of a week borders on the absurd.

On the plus side, it looks like the survivors will include a woman, an African-American, a Mormon, a Southern Baptist minister, a war hero and a libertarian dressed in Republican clothing.

What are the odds that the least diverse states in the nation would give a thumbs up to the most diverse presidential field in history?

Between now and February 5, another 26 states get a shot at thinning the field. By the time they get to Virginia on February 12, it’ll all be over but the shouting.

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John Sarvay

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