Will the Delaware Plan Replace the Caucuses?
Here in Iowa, we love the caucuses. We love the fact that every four years, the most powerful people in the country come to the heartland state, visiting even the smallest towns. We meet the politicians and interact with them as individuals, astounded that we could be standing a mere few feet away from them. So caught up in the excitement, we often forget that other states are not as thrilled about the caucuses as we are.
Other states do not just want to go first for the sake of going first, there are a lot of valid complaints about Iowa being the first state. The first concern is the lack of demographic diversity. Iowa’s opinion matters and shapes the opinion of the rest of the country. Why should a state that is so homogenous get to shape the opinion of the rest of the country? Indeed, 92.1 percent of Iowa is white compared to 77.4 percent of the entire country. Other valid complaints include the fact that Iowa has low turnout compared to primary states and that Iowa’s interests (agriculture, etc.) are also not reflective of the entire country.
With so many valid complaints, why do we not change it in favor of a different plan? Below are some alternatives to the Iowa caucuses:
The One Day National Primary:
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Primaries would be held on a single day across the entire country. No more caucuses.
Strengths: It is undoubtedly representative of the country. In this sense, it is fair.
Weaknesses: Favors candidates with the big bucks. Retail politicking would cease to exist, and virtually all campaigning would be done via television, internet, and radio advertising. Candidates like Bernie Sanders would not stand a chance in this type of election. The winner of the One Day National Primary would be decided by whichever candidate is trending at the moment. Therefore, the RNC and DNC would play a very small role in vetting their candidates, it would just be by popular vote.
The Texas Plan:
This would involve dividing the states into four equal number of both electoral votes and total number of states per group to provide an equal number of predominantly Democratic states. Each cycle, the selection order rotates so that the group that went first initially will go last in the next cycle.
Strengths: It is fair in that different states get to go first each year and have their voices heard. This is arguably more representative of the country than the Iowa caucuses.
Weaknesses: The math is tricky. To create groups with an equal number of red and blue states and have an equal number of electoral votes is nearly impossible. In addition, the party affiliations of various states will inevitably change at some point. What will we do when that happens? Second, each of the four pods has at least one large state and a lot of smaller states. Any smart candidate would spend most of their time in the large state catering to their interests in order to win the election. It is no wonder Texas came up with this plan as it would undoubtedly benefit larger states, not the small and less heard ones.
The Delaware Plan:
By far the most thought out plan, the Delaware plans on the idea that less populated states should go first and the most populated go last. The Delaware Plan splits the country into four sets of primaries in which a “pod” of states can hold their primary elections. The sizes of the pods are 14.8 million, 33.5 million, 64.9 million, and 160.6 million.
Strengths: The primaries stay relevant throughout the entire process, as there are so many delegates to be won in the last pod. Furthermore, no-name candidates with little funds could build momentum in the small states before getting to the most important ones.
Weaknesses: The states within pods are not necessarily in close proximity to each other. Candidates would perhaps focus on the same, more viable states within each pod.
So the One Day National Primary and Texas plans undoubtedly need a bit of work. However, the Delaware Plan looks pretty solid. Why is the Iowa caucuses system still the best system?
First, there are the Iowan people. Iowans take their caucuses very seriously and are passionate about it. Perhaps it is because there is less going on in Iowa so we get pumped about it, or perhaps it is just because we have some of the most engaged citizens in the country. Iowa is home to very strong political parties and competitive politics. People are willing to knock on doors all day.
Second, having Iowa goes first corrects for how small our voices are nationally. Policy goals typically reflect the interest of larger states like California or New York. The Iowa caucuses reflect the interests of the lesser-heard states.
Third, despite our lack of demographic diversity, Iowa is truly a purple state. Within the parties themselves, there are a wide range of ideologies. The parties need strong support from the fiscal conservatives in Des Moines and the social conservatives in Sioux City. This is a state where a candidate like Bernie Sanders can challenge Hillary Clinton, the most establishment-approved candidate on record.
I do not doubt that the Delaware Plan would have its merits. However, changing the system would take a collective action and no state in the past has been able to agree on which state should go first. It does not look like they will be able to do so in the near future either. Iowa, it seems, will be going first for some time.
Feldman is a political science and data analytics double major from Clarendon Hills, Illinois. He loves Bruce Springsteen and poorly attempting his songs on guitar. Follow him on Twitter.