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OPINION | OTHERS SAY: End primary monopoly

by THE WASHINGTON POST | April 6, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

The 2020election may seem like a recent memory—for some, it is not even over—but Politico reports that Democratic Party leaders are hotly debating how to run the 2024 presidential nominating contest, and in particular whether Iowa and New Hampshire should keep their vaunted first-in-the-nation status. They should not. But the party must be careful not to do more harm than good when shifting the primary calendar. And merely reshuffling the order would be an insufficient response to the many dysfunctions the presidential nominating process has proven to have.

Iowa’s 50-year-old privilege to hold the first presidential nominating caucuses, and New Hampshire’s 100-year-old license to conduct the first primary, have become political rituals so entrenched these states treat them as inviolable rights. Iowa and New Hampshire each have laws requiring state parties to hold nominating contests before others do. If other states try to leapfrog them, they just move their events even further forward. These states defend their advantage by arguing that their relatively small size allows voters to get up close and personal with candidates, and that their voters have developed over the decades a sense of responsibility to thoroughly vet the options. The most successful candidates are not necessarily the ones who have the most money for bombing the airwaves with ads, but those who can explain themselves and their policies at town hall meetings.

But Iowa and New Hampshire are unrepresentative of Democratic voters writ large and of the nation as a whole, and they are not the only states in which retail politics is possible.

The party must also offer no privileges to states that continue to use unfair and unfixable caucus systems to select presidential delegates, which would rule out Nevada, unless the state moved to a primary. Caucuses are long affairs in which there is no secret ballot and plenty of peer pressure, so they tend to draw only the most fervent participants and discourage independent thinking.

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