Why the Iowa Caucus is Terrible
On Feb. 1, 2016, the citizens of Iowa braved heavy snows and boring lines to cast their votes for their chosen candidates for the presidency. This, as in every other presidential election year, is the first state elective event which they proudly claim to be a representation of the American people and a glimpse into the future of the process. But is the picture it paints, and even the candidates chosen, really accurate?
The caucus process itself is a bit weird. All across the state, voters gather to discuss their chosen candidate and attempt to convince other caucus-goers to join them. After a period of deliberation, they are split into representative areas and counted. For Democrats, this can happen a second time if some candidates don’t receive at least 15 percent of the vote, with an additional deliberation period. For Republicans, this year happened differently than in the past, which previously used the “Straw Poll,” followed by traditional caucus selection. But problems can easily be found on both sides, as well as the mere idea of Iowa being a gauge for the rest of the country.
For the democratic process, faults can be found in the method of determining ties. This year, six caucus sites ended in a tie. Iowa caucus rules state that ties are determined by a coin toss. You read that correctly: a coin toss. In a presidential election event. All six were awarded to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Had they been evenly split among the two democratic hopefuls, her incredibly narrow margin of victory (.2-.5 percent) would have instead gone to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). For Republicans, the fault mainly lies with their inability to correctly predict the eventual ticket runner. The Straw Poll has consistently picked the wrong person since the 1980s, with the exception of George W. Bush.
But I think the most important thing to consider about the Iowa Caucus is that the state is not an accurate picture of America. According to the 2010 census, 91.3 percent of the Iowa population is white, 2.9 percent is Black, 1.7 percent Asian, and 4.1 percent identifying with another racial background. There is also considerable inconsistency in regards to religious affiliation, with 75 percent identifying as some denomination of Christian, 6 percent claiming another religion, and 13 percent non-religious. Finally, Iowa is a predominantly rural state with few largely populated areas. When you put all of these factors together, you get a candidate chosen without the voices of a growing number of minority groups, and without the economic and cultural experiences of the rest of the country.