Democratic deficits at the Democratic primaries


The debacle at the Democratic primaries in Iowa has sparked wide criticism and ridicule. The upcoming elections in New Hampshire also show: the party’s antiquated electoral system does not live up to the values of the Democratic party.

"Live Free or Die" Bilingual Welcome Sign for New Hampshire

New Hampshire sends only a fraction of the national delegates to the Democratic convention, yet it has more bearing on the outcome of the nominating process than many larger states. But the state’s population is 91 percent white. The enormous disparity raises questions about the fairness of the Democratic primary race.

At first glance, New Hampshire does not necessarily seem like a strategically important place in the primary campaign: only 24, of the 3,979 total delegates who will decide the nomination of a Democratic candidate, are sent by New Hampshire - so on paper, the stakes are low.

And yet, New Hampshire has special significance for the primaries. As one of the first states, it shapes the public image of the candidates for all subsequent votes. What matters is not the few delegates there are to be won, but rather the momentum with which winning candidates enter the following Super Tuesday elections, when 15 states vote simultaneously.

One study concluded that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have up to 20 times greater political influence in primaries than voters in other states. Political clout can also be seen in spending on online advertising: candidate Andrew Yang spent 86 percent of his total budget in Iowa and New Hampshire, Pete Buttigieg 20 percent and Joe Biden 14 percent. An astonishing amount for the two states, that send 65 delegates, only about 1.5 percent of all elected delegates.

This has little to do with fairness of political representation. Apart from the more or less arbitrary historical development, there is no reason why the citizens of one state should have more political influence than others. Especially because the state's citizens are anything but representative of the population as a whole: New Hampshire's population is 91 percent white, compared to 76 percent in the U.S. as a whole, making it one of the states with the largest proportion of white voters anywhere.

Many other aspects fundamentally distinguish New Hampshire from the rest of the U.S., and thus skew the nomination process by the state's particular importance. The population is relatively old, affluent, and lives less in cities than in rural areas. These are all groups of voters that have not been spared the accusation of having too much influence in Democratic primaries anyway.

How much this disparity will affect the nomination process of the next candidate is hard to say. What is certain is that Andrew Yang, as an American of Taiwanese descent, is the last non-white candidate in the primaries, after both Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro dropped out early. They all struggled to win enough votes in Iowa and New Hampshire despite doing well nationally. And the disparity between the "early" states and the country is relevant for the remaining candidates as well: The split between candidates also occurs between ethnicities. For example, Joe Biden is particularly popular with the African-American and Latino populations, and is therefore less likely to emerge victorious in the early elections, even though he is leading in some nationwide polls.

From a European perspective, this is difficult to understand. Why does the party that accuses the Republican Party of suppressing minorities in the election have an electoral system that tends to make it especially difficult for non-white candidates to become presidential nominees?

Perhaps the debacle in Iowa is an opportunity for Democrats - many doubt the legitimacy of the current system. It may finally be time to use the frustration productively to push for reforms that make the nominating process fairer.