m a r k a n d e y a

More on Iowa and New Hampshire

Posted by Brian on November 5, 2007

There was a letter i nthe locla Seattle paper yesterday criticizing David Horsely for the cartoon I posted in my previous post. The writer said:

It is unfortunate that Horsey must portray those obviously politically powerful influential states as crusty rural curmudgeons rather than the independent-minded people who live in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I’ve heard this before… somehow, someway, the people within the magical state boundaries surrounding Iowa and New Hampshire are supposed to be more independent, wiser, and more politically astute than the rest of us, which makes it only right that those folks have an inordinate amount of influence over the voting process.

So rather than put my trust in newspaper letters and anonymous posts on the internet, I decided to do my own research to get to the bottom of this.

My hypothesis is that the voters in New Hampshire and Iowa aren’t all that much diffirent than the rest of us and harldy deserving of the right to decided who the rest of the country gets to vote for.

Paul Waldman from Media Matters agrees, and wrote an essay called The Myth of the Rational Iowa Voter. A few key lines:

In the past week or so, lots of wise and serious commentators have started to say that Hillary Clinton’s victory in the Democratic presidential primaries is all but inevitable. She is repeatedly described as having “solidified her lead,” not only because of her strength in national polls, but due to the fact that she now leads in New Hampshire by a healthy margin and is in a virtual three-way tie in Iowa. And after all, we know Iowa and New Hampshire voters aren’t fickle like those in some other states. They’re serious and studious, applying their down-home common sense and refusing to vote for anyone unless they look them in the eye and get a sense of the person behind the politician.

If this is a typical election, somewhere between 6 and 10 percent of voting-eligible Iowans will bother to show up to a caucus. Yes, you read that right. Those vaunted Iowa voters are so concerned about the issues, so involved in the political process, so serious about their solemn deliberative responsibilities as guardians of the first-in-the-nation contest, that nine out of ten can’t manage to haul their butts down to the junior high on caucus night. One might protest that caucusing is hard — it requires hours of time and a complicated sequence of standing in corners, raising hands, and trading votes (here is an explanation of the ridiculousness). But so what? If ten presidential candidates personally came to your house to beg for your vote, wouldn’t you set aside an evening when decision time finally came?

But only one in ten Iowans can be bothered. Not only that, despite all the attention, Iowans know barely more about the candidates than citizens of other states, and don’t discuss politics any more than anyone else (unless something has changed since this research was conducted in 2000). Yet around 200,000 of them, possessed of no greater wisdom or insight than the rest of us, will determine who presides over this nation of 300 million for the next four years. The problem isn’t that Iowans aren’t like the rest of the country (95 percent white, for one). The problem is that despite the extraordinary privilege of having the next president grovel before them, they’re just as indifferent and apathetic as any other group of Americans.

So far, so good.

But then I read this study from the Pew Research Center on the 2004 election:

The likely participants in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries are far more engaged in the election than likely voters elsewhere in the country.

More than eight-in-ten voters in Iowa (82%) and 75% in New Hampshire are following news about the race very or fairly closely, compared with just over half of Democratic voters nationwide. Primary voters in South Carolina have yet to be drawn in to the campaign in the same way as these earlier states. Just 57% there say they are following the campaign very or fairly closely, not far from the national average among Democratic voters (52%).

And then there’s this NY Times article that offers some anecdotal evidence:

Yet there is something, besides the small size of the stage here, that sets these two states apart and that seems truer than ever this year. Iowa and New Hampshire voters display an uncommon command of issues, a sophistication about the contest and its candidates, an understanding of history and an eagerness to participate that clearly sets them apart.

And here’s a guy who is also frustrated with the whole stupid process.

The evidence is mixed, with some research showing that the folks in New Hampsire and Iowa really are super-voters. Other studies show they are just as lazy and apathetic as the rest of us. But even if we grant the former to be more true than the latter, could it not be the natural result of the constant attention and pandering these two states receive every 4 years from the candidates and the national media? And if so, wouldn’t it be best then to spread the wealth around so that other voters in other parts of the country can also develop this fine-tuned political sense?

This nonsense really needs to end…


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