Monday, February 01, 2016

Critics say early-voting states too rural, old and white; officials say rural has advantages

With the Iowa caucuses beginning today and the New Hampshire primary next week, some argue that the two states are mostly rural, old, white people and not a good representation of the nation as a whole, Michael Levenson reports for The Boston Globe. If those two states were combined into one state, "its electorate would be more than 92 percent white, compared with 69 percent nationwide, and fewer than one-third of its voters would live in big cities, compared with two-thirds in the rest of the country. And even as a merged territory, New Iowa would still be very small, home to just 1.6 percent of the nation’s 222 million eligible voters.

James Jennings, a professor emeritus of urban and environmental policy at Tufts University, called the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary “a bit archaic,” Levenson writes. He told Levenson,
“There’s a point of view being expressed in these lily-white primaries that are not grounded in, or may not be seen as valid in, other parts of the country. So if we want a more unified nation, it’s not a good tool for us getting us there.” (Globe graphic)

Officials in Iowa and New Hampshire argue that being rural offers advantages that larger states are unable to afford, Levenson writes. Paul D. Pate, Iowa’s secretary of state, said the small size of Iowa allows candidates to "travel the state by bus, courting caucus-goers individually in steakhouses and pizza parlors." He told Levenson, “This is much more affordable, and it gives the underdog the opportunity to become the nominee.” He "also downplayed Iowa’s lack of racial diversity (it has the fifth-whitest electorate of any state) and largely rural composition," saying "we share many of the same values and priorities as other parts of the country—that’s what makes us a country.”

People who defend "the New Hampshire primary contend, like Iowans, that the state’s relatively compact size allows candidates with fewer resources to compete by working, day after day, to meet voters in living rooms and taverns," Levenson writes. Kenneth M. Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, told Levenson, "It really is the last time when candidates actually have to talk to voters, and they really couldn’t do this in a big, complicated state. It has to be a small place where the candidates actually have to confront the voters.”

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