Does Iowa Represent Us?

Does Iowa Represent Us?

The Iowa Caucuses may be influential but African Americans have little say.

Published December 19, 2011

It's everywhere you turn these days: in magazines, on tv, in the headlines, and all over the twitterverse. You'd think I was referring to the latest Khardashian drama, or Kobe's divorce but I'm not.  I'm talking about one of the most important litmus tests in an election year: The Iowa Caucuses.  Once every four years, it's Iowa, Iowa, Iowa 24-7. And if you can find the time to ponder, you might secretely wonder what all those folks in Iowa have to do with life in your city.


Well the answer is simple. Because The Iowa Caucuses are the first test of a candidate's electability, in the weeks leading up to January 3rd, candidates make regular pilgrimages to a place that has become the political Holy Land in the race for the White House. 


A candidate’s good showing in Iowa can catapult him to the top of the pack.  But a poor showing there can all-but dash a person’s hopes for success on Election Day.  


Doug Thornell, policy analyst, and SVP for communications consulting firm SKD Knickerbocker, says, “Part of what happens is that it’s about momentum. And if you do better than expected in Iowa, it sling shots you into New Hampshire, putting you in a better position with your party.”


But Iowa is not a state known for its diversity.  In fact, while African-Americans make up about 13 percent of the country’s population, just more than 2 percent of Iowans are African American.  

Granted, with President Obama as the presumed Democratic nominee, African-Americans, who typically vote Democratically, may not have as much interest in the Republicans running in Iowa.  But the fact remains that due to sheer numbers, our political influence in one of the most influential contests in the nation, is minimized.   


“I think that because African-Americans are so important, we need to find ways to make sure that our voice has a very important and strong say in selecting the nominee,” said Thornell.


Iowa’s first place standing has a lot to do with tradition and voters with a reputation for having an enthusiastic affinity for the political process. Simply put, Iowans live and breathe politics and they like being first.


Thornell said, “The process is more intimate there because candidates are meeting with the people in coffee shops and homes. People really measure you up and they get a better sense of who you are and what kind of candidate you will be.” 


Iowa is not always the bellwether it fashions itself to be. Consider 2008. During the caucuses, Iowans correctly selected then-Senator Barack Obama as the Democratic winner.  But they got it wrong on the Republican side, giving Gov. Mike Huckabee the win.


Imagine how differently that race may have gone if African-Americans had more representation in Iowa during the last election. Blacks could have potentially altered the course of election in favor of Hillary Clinton, who many supported at that time. The possibilities are endless.    


The parties, particularly the Democrats, have been looking at ways to make the political calendar more reflective of the electorate by ensuring that elections in more diverse states like South Carolina and Nevada took place earlier than usual.


Thornell says, “There is just a lot of history and tradition that will be hard to change. I think maybe at some point the primary and caucus calendar might change.  But keep in mind, it’s an institution. That being said, it can always be modified and it can always be made better.”


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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Written by Andre Showell


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