F&L 2020: Aside on The First Primary

New Hampshire, by state law, has the first primary contest in the nation.  Yes, I know; Iowa comes before New Hampshire — but that’s a caucus, not a primary.  It’s a fundamentally different sort of contest, at least in a technical sense.  And technicalities are the soul of the law.

(Ideally we’d have a legal system based on right and wrong, but you end up with squabbles over which is which.  Technicalities is the best we can do.  Anyway.)

Now that New Hampshire and Iowa are both over with, it’s somewhat remarkable that the so-called “Party of Inclusivity” has ended up with four old white people and one middle-aged leading the ticket.  There’s also two billionaire Johnny-come-latelys that self fund; they’re both (surprise!) old and white.  All the D.N.C. has left to demonstrate its embrace of diversity is one grimly obstinate Polynesian-Samoan, and they hate her.

Unsurprisingly, I’m hardly the first to have noticed this curious phenomenon.  And, when one troubles to examine the demographics in Iowa and New Hampshire, one finds a correlation with respect to ethnicity.  Yes, it’s true; both states are whiter than Wonder Bread — 91% and 93% respectively.  If we presume causation, this gives us a fine reason to consider changing the First Primary state.

(We’ll just ignore the Polynesian-Samoan.  After all, everyone else is.)

To such a proposal, I would raise two objections — one practical, the other statistical.

In 2008, Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucuses by a hefty margin.  Some people may be surprised to learn this, but it’s true:  Barack Obama is not white.  Clinton won New Hampshire, but narrowly; the delegates were split.  The remainder of the primary was close, and the results reflected candidate spending rather than any other factor.  (It’s hard to remember this today, but for context it’s important:  Hillary Clinton was actually extremely popular in 2008.)

I would also draw attention to the following result:  Although Deval Patrick is black, he carried only 0.1% of New Hampshire, the population of which is 7% nonwhite.  Cory Booker dropped from the race because he had minimal support nationally.  There are dozens more examples from recent history, including Ben Carson’s Iowa results in 2016, but let’s not cite them all.  The bottom line here is that, while there may in fact be some truth to the premise that Americans in general tend to vote for people who are like them, there’s some good evidence that this is less the case in Iowa and New Hampshire than elsewhere; more to the point, it’s far more correct to say that the person who spends the most money gets the most votes, all else being more or less equal.

People give money to candidates they like.  Corporations, unions, and donation bundlers give money to candidates that will pursue policies they like.  And money can buy votes for anyone whose last name isn’t Hitler (or Bush; sorry, Jeb), who isn’t an actual evil oligarch billionaire (Trump isn’t worth a billion), and who doesn’t wear a boot on his head.  …then again, we haven’t given that last a fair try.  Perhaps we should.

But it seems to me that there’s a fundamental truth we’re missing:  that changing the location, even randomly, would not promote racial equity in our presidential choices.  Geographic equity, sure — but geography can’t vote.  If equity is what we want, it’s not location but rather people that we need to fix.  We might be able to address this with equitable campaign finance options, but relocating the first primary won’t do a thing.  We might just as well reintroduce busing.

Identitarianism aside, however, there’s something about the New Hampshire primaries that I find magical, and that would be impossible to replicate in any other state.  The population is small and very reachable.  As a result, candidate events are held in church basements, VFW halls, town meeting rooms, and other highly approachable venues.  Any American willing to take a week off to travel can do what I did:  Go to New Hampshire, stand in line, and actually speak with every candidate that interests you.

So it’s not Disney.  It was cheaper and the rides were better.  The White Mountains are glorious this time of year.


If you can’t take a week off for this, have no fear: I did. And you can help pay for it.

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