Picture this: America is gearing up for a presidential election.. Some things are good, some things are bad, and some things are ugly. Some people want change, some people want to keep the status quo, and some people don’t care at all what happens. The question is, where to begin the search for a new president or to start up a re-election campaign? New York, California, or Texas?
Nope. Iowa and New Hampshire: two states so random you might as well have pulled them out of a hat.
These states are like two estranged siblings, only coming together for important events and solely spoken about in the same sentence within the context of elections. Both Iowa and New Hampshire have some similar demographics; majority white (IA=89% and NH=92% of the population), roughly 50% male and 50% female, and approximately 93% of residents have graduated high school. However, Iowa is home to around three million people, whereas New Hampshire has about half that.
Since 2000, New Hampshire has overwhelmingly voted Democrat in presidential elections (beforehand, they voted Republican roughly 60% of the time). On the other hand, Iowa voted Democrat in 6 of 7 election cycles until Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, which had turned the state red; that trend has since continued as Iowa has grown more and more red.
The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are two of the most important dates in American politics, with Iowa traditionally going first, and the primary following a week or so afterwards. The caucuses and primary allow us to see which candidates on the Republican and Democratic side the country is leaning towards – the nation’s barometer, if you will.
But what’s the difference between these two?
In short, a primary is pretty straightforward: the voter anonymously selects who they would like to vote for in an election on a ballot, they turn it in, and then they leave. Easy as one, two, three!
Though the Democrats and Republicans have different rules and ways about caucusing, the gist is that a caucus is the most social political event a voter will ever participate in. Voters attend caucusing events in their precinct. These are held at churches, schools, or other event centers. Sometimes hundreds of people attend and sometimes only a dozen will, depending on the precinct’s population and general political interest. Those caucusing will advocate for their specific candidate. Sometimes, speeches about why people should vote for a certain candidate will be given. The attendees will be split up into groups based on their candidate preference. Delegates will be awarded to certain candidates and calculated into percentages. Whoever has the most people caucusing for them at the end of the night will win.
But why Iowa and New Hampshire? There’s nothing in the Constitution that says anything about caucuses or primaries. Heck, Iowa wasn’t even a state when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution!
Iowa became the first state in the nation to express their preference for a candidate because of the 1976 run of Jimmy Carter, the peanut-farming president from Georgia. Since citizens and politicians alike noticed how much of a boost he got from the attention he received in Iowa, the state has gone first in every election since (although, there is nothing official about this in federal law, which is why the Democrats may be switching up who goes first in their voting schedule).
New Hampshire, on the other hand, was the first primary in the nation for a long time. However, it wasn’t important that it was first until 1968 when New Hampshire Speaker of the House Richard Upton changed the voting rules so that voters could directly vote for the presidential candidate, which attracted larger turnout. Lyndon B. Johnson, wildly unpopular, did squeak by in the primary. But Johnson didn’t see this win as indicative of another term in office, and so he dropped out of the race. Afterwards, the number of primaries occurring in the US doubled. Delegates were now becoming more and more coveted among presidential hopefuls.
In essence, since Iowa and New Hampshire made caucuses and primaries more mainstream as well as started and ended presidential bids, they now go first in election cycles. And hopefully, another state won’t usurp them, because these first-in-the-nation statuses mean a heck of a lot to citizens and politicians alike