Archaic Iowa caucus system should be eliminated

March 11, 2016 — by Katherine Zhou

The Iowa caucus: the first expression of voter interest in the election season. The caucus is an electoral event where residents meet in precincts and select delegates for the state’s Congressional District Convention and State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nomination.

The Iowa caucus: the first expression of voter interest in the election season. The caucus is an electoral event where residents meet in precincts and select delegates for the state’s Congressional District Convention and State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nomination.

This year, Republican candidate Ted Cruz won by a margin of 3.3 percent, and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won in what was a virtual tie, by a margin of 0.4 percent.

The caucus is supposed to show voters and the media what a candidate’s chances are; however, the small state of Iowa is a poor representation of the American people, with a population that is 91 percent white, compared to the national average, 77 percent. Iowa is not at all diverse, and the fact is that it does not deserve so much influence on the presidential election.

Giving so much weight to this one caucus is problematic because it is not necessarily a good prediction of a candidate’s success nationwide, and a lack of support in Iowa may scare off candidates who would otherwise be successful, since many voters adjust their views based on their perception of who is successful. For example, Democratic candidate Dick Gephardt was ahead in the Iowa caucus in early 2003 and seemed to be the frontrunner, but in the end he fell to fourth place. This caused Gephardt to pull out of the race before the New Hampshire primaries.

The caucus system is also antiquated, as it is essentially made up of tedious, face-to-face discussions, which are also called a “gathering of neighbors.” These meetings only draw in the most passionate supporters: the hyper-liberal and radically conservative. This often empowers more extreme political factions.

Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have successfully predicted the Democratic nominee only 43 percent of the time, and the Republican nominee 50 percent of the time. In the 11 elections since 1972, only one Republican candidate, George W. Bush, has won the Iowa caucus and gone on to win the general election.

One way to improve the caucus system is to hold it in another state. Other states are more demographically diverse, and are better indicators of a candidate’s chances with the general public. For instance, states like Missouri, Ohio, Nevada or New Mexico are all better options than Iowa.

Missouri, in particular, is stunningly capable of predicting political trends, a phenomenon known as the “Missouri Bellwether.” In fact, Missouri’s electoral votes have predicted the President every year from 1904 to 2004, with only one exception.

Another widely supported idea is to create a regional primary. One suggestion is the rotating primary, breaking up the states into four regions: East, Midwest, South and West, and letting each region have a turn. There are also plans like the Delaware and Ohio plan which allow groups of smaller states to vote before larger states.

The caucus is supposed to show candidates and voters if a candidate has the chance  to win the election. Although the grassroots-style campaign of the caucus is quaint and historical, it ultimately creates an inaccurate discussion that misleads the public and may deter otherwise viable candidates. 

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