Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence… Iowa has been the center of a Republican parade in the last few weeks. But what happens with the Democrats?
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted on February to remove Iowa as the kick-off state for its primaries, so in 2024 the state will not host the first caucus of both parties for the first time since 1972.
The DNC made its decision based on diversity: 90% of the Iowan population is white, according to the latest census data. Also, the state came under scrutiny in 2020 because of the delay in the vote-counting process. The results – with Pete Buttigieg as the winner – became available after nearly a week.
“We wanted to make sure that we sent a message that the most reliable constituency of the democratic party are African American voters and that’s why the DNC wanted those voters to be reflected early on in our process,” says Ken Martin, vice chair of the DNC and chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. “We thank Iowa for all their years of serving as a great model, but our party is much different than it was 30 years ago.”
Martin said this decision will affect the campaigning in Iowa – the Democratic candidates will not have to visit to Iowa anymore – and will also have “some impact” on the results, with a lower turnout.
In different conversations with Democrat voters from Iowa, the shared feeling is of disappointment, but also understanding.
Brett Johnson, associate professor of Media Law at the University of Iowa, participated in the Democratic caucus in 2008 before leaving the state for more than a decade.
“It was really cool,” he says. “You got to meet a lot of the candidates – it was kind of a marketplace of ideas. I will miss that. We took so much pride in being the first state to vote in the caucus but, honestly, there’s no real reason why any state should be first.”
Despite the results in Iowa could be read as a “bellwether for the rest of the nation,” according to some specialists, the records show that Jimmy Carter (1972) and Barack Obama (2008) were the only Democratic candidates who won the caucus in that state and then a national election. From the Republican side, the lone case was George W. Bush (2000).
According to academics in Iowa, the main differences now will be that the candidates will not invest that much in campaigning in the state and, also, that Iowans citizens will lose their “special status” as voters.
From purple to red?
After this historic change, South Carolina will host the first primary election of the Democratic party on February 3 next year. On the other side, Republicans will still vote first in Iowa next January. The state has had an increasingly good performance for the GOP in the last local and national elections.
Although policy experts in Iowa still debate if the state was at some point a “purple” state, there is now consensus that Republicans have won the support. The question is why.
Iowa has an average record of independent candidates that goes from 20% to 30%, which led to “a very pragmatic approach to voting,” says a public policy expert in Muscatine, Iowa. “Now, I see more people choosing party loyalty over that independent choice.”
Brett Johnson considers the “biggest swing” was made by rural labor Democrats. “A lot of those blue collar Democrats shifted very hard to Trump and his populist rhetoric,” he says. “I think that that block has shifted a lot between Democrat and Republicans. I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t shift back to Democratic party.”
Is this shift the reason behind the democratic change?
“No, in fact, if you look at some of the states that are in that early-states calendar, there’s some red states in there,” explains Ken Martin, from the DNC. “It’s really more about who we’re trying to communicate our values.”