Face Off: New Hampshire vs. Iowa

Posted by Molly Rockett, Demarquin Johnson on February 05, 2016

In this special edition of Primary Focus, we debate the merits of a humorous hypothetical. If one could vote in either Iowa or New Hampshire, which would you choose? The two states proudly boast their nominating contests as the best in the nation, but the debate has never been outlined. This five-point comparison of Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primaries is not an endorsement of specific components; rather it is a discussion of nuanced details. 

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Molly - IOWA - #IowaBrag

  1. Conversations and community

    In Iowa, the caucuses involve actual gatherings of voters where communities come together at one time in person to talk about the candidates before they support a nominee. For Democrats, these gatherings can last hours as voters “vote with their feet” as they align and realign around the candidates through different rounds of voting. The approach is analogous to ranked choice voting, as highlighted by Time magazine this week. Democracy is all about dialogue, and with an in-person caucus, serious conversations about the issues and the candidates are always part of the voting process.

  2. More candidates, more choices

    Because Iowa votes first, voters there have the full range of candidates to choose from. As a voter, I want as many options as possible when I go to the polls. Every time a candidate drops out, or is pressured out, value is lost to the broader conversations taking place within the race. Democrats in Iowa may not have had the opportunity to consider past candidates like Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, but at least they did have more than two options with Martin O’Malley. Iowa Republicans engaged with since-withdrawn candidates Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.
  3. The parties run their own nomination contests, not taxpayers

    In Iowa, the caucuses are planned and administered by state parties, not taxpayers, where independent and minor party voters don’t have to pay for major party nomination processes. This keeps the process community-oriented and gives party voters greater control over the event itself. The caucuses can be held anywhere from private living rooms, churches, and businesses to a public school auditorium based on local needs. The Democratic party even hosts tele-caucuses so Iowans in the military serving outside the state can fully participate in the process.
  4. Only one state can really go first

    There’s technically “first” in the country and then there is actually “first” in the country. Even if they precede New Hampshire voters by just a week, that week can make all the difference in terms of changing the dynamics of the race. Iowans might not have a great track record of predicting the actual nominee, especially on the Republican side, but they do have a great track record of impacting how the race evolves. Iowa is widely credited with kickstarting Jimmy Carter’s campaign. More than half of all presidential campaign money spent to date in this cycle has targeted Iowa voters.
  5. More delegates

    The real end-game of all caucuses and primaries is to collect delegates for the state convention and eventually the national convention. Iowa Democrats send 44 delegates to the national convention compared to 32 in New Hampshire, while Iowa Republicans send 30 delegates compared to 23 in New Hampshire.

Demarquin - NEW HAMPSHIRE  - #LiveFreeOrDie

  1. My vote is none of your business  

    Because New Hampshire has the nation’s first presidential primary, I can cast a secret ballot. The drama behind political views can seep into other aspects of people’s lives. Unlike Iowa’s highly public process, New Hampshire allows me to participate in the democratic process without losing my privacy. While I enjoy meaningful debates with my work colleagues and neighbors, I want it to be my choice to reveal my beliefs.

  2. I trust the state government to do it right 

    A true primary is administered by the state. When the government is in control, there is a standardized system that includes regular polling locations during normal hours. In Iowa, voters are subject to arbitrary rules by state party officials that can differ depending on your party affiliation and are subject to sloppy mistakes and lack of regulation. Voting should be accessible for all people. New Hampshire will allow me to be treated equally to my neighbor regardless of political views. I care about ensuring fairness and integrity in the electoral system. Also, I can make it home in time for dinner, unlike Iowan caucus goers.

  3. We get a full report of the actual votes

    I like my elections with a healthy portion of transparency and openness, especially after votes are cast and counted. In Iowa, Democrats report only the “delegate equivalents,” which are the relative number of local delegates won based on their performance in county caucuses. The number of delegates allocated to each precinct is based on the 2014 election and may lead to great distortions of one-person, one-vote -- and underdog candidates beneath the 15% threshold in a precinct end up looking like they earned no votes at all. In New Hampshire, every candidate in both parties knows exactly where they stand after election day.
  4. Greater inclusion is greater democracy

    New Hampshire acknowledges that the voices of Independents are valuable. Undeclared voters are not forced to register with a party to engage in the democratic process. Voting in the Granite State guarantees my opportunity to participate. Despite having more than 700,000 Independents, Iowa’s caucus process effectively shuts out citizens who don’t want to register as a member of a political party. As a New Hampshirite, I can maintain a greater degree of freedom in deciding whether or not to associate with a party without jeopardizing my ability to participate in the primary process. I also can vote by absentee ballot, unlike people who might be sick or out of town in Iowa.
  5. New Hampshire gets it right

    The New Hampshire primary has been much more predictive of the  ultimate outcome of nomination contests than Iowa. Iowa’s smaller electorate can give more weight to extremes within the party, and time and again New Hampshire has “corrected” for Iowa, especially on the Republican side. Since 1960, the eventual Republican and Democratic nominees have finished either first or second in New Hampshire except for 1968 when nominee Hubert Humphrey didn’t contest any primaries. Republican nominees who won the nomination after winning New Hampshire and losing in Iowa include Mitt Romney in 2012 (with Iowa going to Rick Santorum), John McCain in 2008 (not Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee), George H.W. Bush in 1988 (after finishing third in Iowa behind evangelist Pat Robertson) and Ronald Reagan in 1980 (after losing to Bush in Iowa).
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