Re-ordering the Democratic Primaries

Why Biden Pushed for Re-ordering the Primaries

The official reason for re-ordering the Democratic primaries, to allow South Carolina to go first, is to increase the influence of Black voters in the selection of the presidential nominee. A second reason is clearly to strengthen President Biden’s position if there is a contest for the Democratic nominee for President.

Why Iowa Was Always a Bad Starting Point

I was never a fan of giving Iowa outsized power in the selection of presidential candidates. For decades it has forced otherwise sensible candidates, like Sen. Bill Bradley (a moderate Democrat from New Jersey), to reject reason and embrace subsidies for “gasohol.” Subsidies for gasohol are irrational and merely a subsidy for corn production.

The Upside of Iowa for the Country

That being said, there was some value to allowing the Iowa caucus vote to come first. Winning in Iowa requires meeting with small groups of voters. Candidates whose appeal is based on a manufactured media presence are at a disadvantage in Iowa, relative to those with real personal appeal.

The Dilemma of Iowa for the Democratic Party

The disadvantage of Iowa from the viewpoint of the Democratic Party is that the voters, even the Democratic voters, are overwhelmingly White. It may be true that this tilts the contest away from candidates whose primary appeal is to Black voters. Nevertheless, it may provide a kind of advantage to Black candidates. Barack Obama’s strong performance in Iowa provided evidence that he could garner significant support among White voters. It is not helpful to either Black voters or Democrats in general, if the primaries produce candidates who have limited appeal to White voters. Remember, the voting public in the general election remains predominantly White.

The Long-Term Consequences of Leading with South Carolina

Let’s consider a post-Biden election. In 2028, it is easy to imagine a primary battle between Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. Buttigieg is not popular in the Black community, as evidenced by his poor performance in the 2020 South Carolina Presidential primary. It is hard to say exactly why this is the case. It may be because Buttigieg is openly gay and it may be because African-Americans disliked his response to policing issues when he was Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Kamala Harris has stronger, but not unqualified, support from the Black community. If Harris wins the nomination, she would likely go down to defeat in the general election because she is deeply unpopular, a bad campaigner, and is tied, rightly or wrongly, to the chaos at the border. Buttigieg did well in Iowa because he is a good campaigner. He would do well in the general election because, in addition to being a good campaigner, he is a relative moderate and is not linked to the most unpopular aspects of the Biden administration. If South Carolina goes first, it improves the odds of Harris winning the nomination and, in my opinion, lowers the odds of the Democrats winning the Presidency.

A Better Choice for Both Parties

I think the most rational thing for the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party for that matter, is to lead off the primary season in a state where the party’s demographics (racial and political) mirror those of likely voters in the general election. As a first approximation, I would suggest considering the so-called “battle ground” or “purple” states including: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada. Ideally, the selection requires matching up the party’s political and racial demography in each state with that of general election voters. If anyone is aware of sources for this kind of data, please let us know.