The Absurdity of Iowa
Cold hard facts.
In reading pieces like Iowa’s deep freeze scrambles caucus turnout tactics for GOP campaigns (WaPo), I can’t help but reflect on the absurdity of this process. Why is voting starting in January? Why is Iowa even a thing?
In simple terms, it is an odd choice, from an efficacy standpoint, to schedule a series of potentially hours-long meetings in the middle of winter on a Monday night. It is as if the designers of the process asked themselves what format would result in the lowest turnout and picked it. In other words, if the goal is the actual participation of Iowans, this isn’t the route.
And an already byzantine process is going to be further complicated by the weather.
The process dates to the early 20th Century, and it was nothing more than a beauty contest (i.e., had no formal role in picking the candidate until after reforms were put into place in 1972). The Iowa caucuses themselves came to national prominence because they helped propel Jimmy Carter to the nomination in 1976.
And, of course, as the WSJ notes, it has all become big business: How Iowa Turned the Caucuses Into a Gold Mine (which explains why they fight so hard to keep its place in the overall process).
More than $105 million has been spent by the Republican presidential candidates and their allies on Iowa ads during the past year, data from AdImpact shows. That compares with roughly $53 million expended by Democrats and their allies during a similar period four years ago, when that party held competitive caucuses.
That is just advertising. The state also brings in millions of dollars more in hotel receipts, restaurant bookings, event production, office space, rental cars and the sale of voter databases.
Iowa and New Hampshire—the leadoff states in the Republican nomination process—have long enjoyed the financial and publicity windfall generated by hosting the first contests. It is a big reason party officials in both states fight so hard to keep their lucrative franchise.
Objectively speaking, there is no good reason to have to have voting in this process start in January. There is no good reason to use the caucus format. There is no argument that logically champions Iowa as the place to begin. And so on, and so on.
Really, the entire primary process makes little sense. It isn’t as if there aren’t national sentiments about the candidates. The notion that the candidates are winning over the electorate state-by-state is simply not true.
This is simply a case of we do it this way because, well, it seems like we always have.
Indeed, if you stop and think about the various pro-state-by-state primary arguments that sound very much like the kinds of things we talk ourselves into because we are retrospectively trying to justify the absurd. For example, the idea that “retail politics” (e.g., talking to people in diners) is a good way to vet candidates to be POTUS is more than a bit silly.
Process matters and it seems relevant to ask how this process promotes the kinds of skills needed to the the chief executive of a global superpower.