Portrait of David Leonhardt

David Leonhardt

David Leonhardt is an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times. Prior to joining the Opinion department, Mr. Leonhardt was the founding editor of The Upshot section, which emphasizes data visualization and graphics to offer an analytical approach to the day’s news. Mr. Leonhardt has also served as Washington bureau chief and wrote “Economic Scene,” a weekly economics column, for the Business section. In 2011, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns.
Reprint from The New York Times
The combined population of Iowa and New Hampshire is 87 percent non-Hispanic white, which is roughly what the United States was in 1870. The states are also disproportionately older and completely lacking in cities with more than 250,000 residents.
And yet Iowa and New Hampshire are treated like a national microcosm every four years and given outsize influence in choosing the president.
This makes no sense. I know the usual justifications — that the states’ citizens take their democratic responsibilities seriously. But when you boil down that argument to its essence, it’s really an argument claiming that Iowans and New Hampshirites are intellectually and morally superior to other Americans.
My column today makes the case for ending the special treatment that the two states receive. I explain how Iowa and New Hampshire have already skewed this year’s (overwhelmingly white) remaining field of candidates and how the states could further skew the process in the weeks ahead. By 2024, we should switch to a fairer system.
What might that look like? I had room to mention only a couple of ideas in the column, and I want to offer some more detail, mostly from other voices, here.

Fixing the problem

  • Paul Waldman, Washington Post: “In a better world, we’d have a system in which the order of primaries changed every year, with some guarantee that the earliest few would be more representative of the country (urban and rural, large and small, and so on).”
  • Albert Eisenberg, The Philadelphia Inquirer: “A logical primary process would be a randomized lottery to build the calendar, refreshed each presidential year and agreed upon by the two major parties — which alone could force the issue. Maybe one cycle, Pennsylvania would finally benefit from the political competition of repeated visits by the presidential candidates. Then the map — and the voters — would refresh for the next round.”
  • And what if the Republican Party chose to keep the current calendar? Democrats could take advantage by letting a few swing states — say, Arizona and Wisconsin — go early in 2024. The extra campaigning there would be a side benefit.
  • Michael Bloomberg, for CNN.com:
The Democratic Party reflects America’s incredible diversity. But the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire, are among the most homogenous in the nation. …
The problem is compounded by the fact that the two early voting states are unlikely to be consequential in the general election. So as a party, we are spending all of our time and resources outside of the battleground states we need to win. Meanwhile, President Trump is spending his time in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina — all states we lost in 2016 by razor-thin margins.
  • Walter Shapiro, Brennan Center: “An elegant solution for 2024 and beyond would be simply to change the order of the early states. New Hampshire, which has been holding its opening-gun primary since 1916, deserves to be first. But then follow it with South Carolina, whose Democratic primary electorate is more than 50 percent African American. Move Iowa — and its emphasis on rural issues — to third place, and end with Nevada, whose population is more than one-quarter Latino.”
  • Nancy LeTourneau, Washington Monthly: “According to the polling aggregates at FiveThirtyEight, the voters in Nevada and South Carolina do a better job of capturing the national sentiment about the 2020 race.”


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