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.

  • error

    Report an error

John Sarvay

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. John,

    Your point is well-taken, but to me, the real absurdity is the front-loaded primary system itself. In all likelihood, we’ll have the two candidates chosen by mid-February. Then the two conventions won’t happen until late-summer. The months in between will be filled mostly with a lot of nonsense that will probably make us all more frustrated with the tedium of politics today.

    Speaking of the ’70s, before that decade few states saw fit to hold primaries; after all, they cost a lot of money. Instead, in most states conventions of party regulars were held to determine who among them would be delegates to their party’s national convention.

    Then the chosen delegates went to that convention where all the votes on the floor were not necessarily predetermined. Those less orchestrated conventions were alive with potential for the unexpected to suddenly explode into the proceedings.

    Hip political thinking of the ’70s asserted that primaries were more “inclusive” than the smoke-filled-rooms of the past. It wasn’t long before both parties bought into that brand of wisdom and most states fell in line.

    Yet, in the long run, the result of that supposedly well-intentioned change in the political process has proven to magnify the power of the deep-pocketed kingmakers who can bankroll a staff and buy TV ads.

    Now people seem to think all the primaries inevitable, but they aren’t. There has to be a better way.

  2. Wow, I did not know about primaries only being thirty years old.

    If we are going to stick with the way we do things I would love to see Virginia become a little more relevant by moving our primary to Super Tuesday.

  3. The caucus process is much older — but even the Framers of Ye Olde Constitution were not keen on political parties (or “factions” as they called them then — How could would it be to be a member of the Democratic Faction, or the Jets?) and hoped their “more perfect union” would make the notion obsolete. Silly Framers. It was the collapse of the popular vote in the Democratic nomination process in 1968 — Hubert Humphrey got nominated, though anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy won the primary votes and had more popular support — that led to the binding primary process. Fascinating stuff if you smoke a pipe and have a deep-seated leather chair.

  4. I agree that the primary system is dumb. If we can have a national election on a day, we should be able to have a national primary on another single day. Then again, if we wanted government to more accurately reflect the will of the people, we’d have to make many, many more changes that would adversely affect the people who actually had the power to make them. So I don’t see that happening too quickly.

    I wanted to point out, though, John, that I think the primary and caucusing voters so far have been predominantly female. Many more democrats have been turning out than republicans in both of these states, and democrats are more likely to be women.

  5. John makes a really good point about the racial dynamics of the primary system – I was glad to see this because its something I’ve also been thinking about.

    I’m from NH originally (now in Charlottesville). This time, I’ll be voting here in VA and missing the feeling that a vote in the primary matters.

    I think the only advantage of New Hampshire being one of the first is that we have a unique sort of conservative – the hard nosed “live free or die” libertarian. As a democrat who leans socialist, I get frustrated when they want to curb spending social services like schools and roads. However, they are also more likely to protect people’s civil rights regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation etc. Because of this, NH can help shake up the uneasy relationship between fiscal and moral conservativism.

    As far as issues of racial representation are concerned I think Virginia would be a far better state to kick off the primaries. Not only would that allow African-American voters to represent themselves, it would also include far more Asian-American and Latino/a voters than states in the Midwest and New England.

  6. Pingback: Richardson to drop his bid for President |

  7. It does seem strange that Iowa gets to go first. Who knows why. The electoral college is simply a bad idea, anyway.

    Yadda, yadda, yadda. So the state has people with mostly light colored skin. Big deal. You insinuate that it means being Barack Obama or Alan Keyes or Richardson has the least bit of disadvantage.

    And what is your source to suggest that most of the voter are male?

    They are probably older, simply due to youth apathy.

  8. What I meant to insinuate is that two of the least diverse states (by race, ethnicity, social class, gender and size) effectively eliminate half the presidential field before the rest of the country gets to vote. We call this a representational democracy for a reason; the primary system — and in fact the electoral college — fly in the face of that.

    If I meant to insinuate that minority candidates were at a disadvantage, I would have said so. As it was, I think I concluded by noting that the most diverse group of candidates in history were still poised to emerge from the least diverse set of voters — insinuating, in fact, that I wasn’t really concerned about racial outcomes.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Or report an error instead