This is no way to run a democracy

February 25, 2020 2:26 pm

A crowd at Hiatt Middle School waits for former Vice President Joe Biden to speak the night before the Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The results of Iowas first-in-the-nation presidential caucus are not yet in. The Nevada caucus results are not clear two days after.

It doesn’t really matter. Iowa’s tiny number of national delegates and who gets them will make a difference only if the vote is close at the national convention and no one has a majority. Perhaps Sen. Bernie Sanders will win by bullying the Democratic National Committee (DNC) into awarding the 2020 nomination to the candidate with the largest number of delegates instead of a majority. He bullied the DNC into screwing up the Iowa caucuses, making it an impossible process.

More troubling is the fact that in the United States we now have “permanent election campaigns.” That’s a burden no population can bear. It’s hard enough for people to go to their presidential caucus or polling place once every four years for a quick vote. Half of eligible voters fail even at that simple task. To have campaigns torturing citizens year-round is an unspeakable atrocity.

After Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, the scramble for 2020 in the Democratic Party started literally the day after Donald Trump was declared the winner on November 4th. Day after day, dollar after dollar, candidates have been roaming the Internet seeking support and money and coming to Iowa.

The small, mostly white early states, Iowa and New Hampshire, have now been declared outriders, not diverse, and a bad way to start the American presidential candidate selection process.

Nevada suddenly became the darling of the media because it’s supposedly the most diverse state in the nation. But, in a different way, Nevada is not at all representative of the nation.

Nevada is a huge and virtually empty state with only 3.14 million people. The white non-Latino/Hispanic population is only 48.7% while 62.8% of the total U.S. population is white. Also, roughly 85% of Nevada is federally owned. Really. It’s basically a federal-government state. The biggest industries are gambling and divorce. How representative is that?

If we are stressing the racial and ethnic uniqueness of states — Nevada being more Latino, South Carolina with a black population of 27 percent — shouldn’t we also want candidates campaigning heavily in the most Jewish state, New York?

Do we want candidates showing their strength in other diversity metrics? Do we need them to prove their electability in the most gay region (the District of Columbia), the least gay state (North Dakota), the most Asian-American states (Hawaii, California), the poorest state (Mississippi with the lowest per-capita real GDP), and so forth?

The diversities of the past (German, Irish, Polish, Italian, French) don’t count anymore although they were once some the most ardent and contested divisions in America. The reason is that in 2020 these are not technically “people of color.”

Aren’t we just deepening the rift between these groups? We should instead be helping knit together what has always been a divided and too often conflict-ridden nation.

We would not be stressing our differences and the different appeals of candidates so much if we had a national primary on, say, May 3. With the Internet and mass nationalized media, the old idea that candidates can’t campaign in a national primary unless they have a lot of money is no longer true. Besides, as I read it, the way we do it now candidates must have maybe even more money to stay competitive.

With a national primary, there would be no “delegate equivalents” calculated at the precinct or state level. Instead, the total popular vote for each candidate would be reported and the national party organization would assign the number of delegates awarded to each contender based on the results of the primary. This would happen in the tranquility of the party headquarters, with observers for each candidate present to keep it honest, and with experts on call with really good calculators.

I would also suggest prohibiting campaigning before a certain reasonable date that would not subject Americans to the exhausting carpet-bombing of ads and candidate pleading. I would not allow the federal government to mandate any of this; it would be a compact of the American political parties in whose interest it would be to reform the system.

One benefit of a national primary would be that Iowa and New Hampshire would not be pitted against each other and they would not be publicly shamed for being overwhelmingly white.

Steffen Schmidt is the Lucken Endowed Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University.




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Steffen Schmidt
Steffen Schmidt

Steffen Schmidt is the Lucken Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University in Ames.