Every year, there’s talk of reforming the primary system, for reasons ranging from who gets to vote, to how the primaries are staggered on the electoral calendar.
One reason that doesn’t get brought up often enough: the racial composition of the states that hold the first major events of the election season—the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries.
According to Census data, Iowa and New Hampshire are both more than 92% white.
Iowa’s African-American population represents just 3.4% of the state, while its Hispanic and Latino population represents 5.3%. In New Hampshire, meanwhile, just 1.5% of the state is black, while 3.3% is Hispanic or Latino.
As a reminder, the U.S. is 17% Hispanic and 13% black.
The candidates—or, at least, Democratic ones—are not necessarily ignoring Iowa’s minorities. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley’s campaign have reportedly been making outsized bids for Hispanic and Latino voters, because, since such a small chunk of Iowa primary voters turn out for the Democratic caucus, the group could prove a spoiler against front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“Both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have done an extremely amazing job at reaching out to Latinos,” Christian Ucles, Iowa political director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, told The Detroit News. “In the Clinton outreach of their traditional campaign, a lot of Latinos are being left behind.”
Ucles continued: “If O’Malley gets 5 percent of delegates, it will come from rural areas and Latino precincts, which ends up helping Bernie Sanders because it takes away from Hillary.”
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was the only Democratic nominee to appear at the I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa annual festival, billed as the largest African-American festival in the state, The New York Times reported, although her appearance as “incredibly brief.”
As Rick Wade, Obama’s director of African-American outreach in 2008, told CNN last week, “In both large and small caucuses, black voters can tilt the scales when the numbers are close.” He continued: “And strong black support in Iowa could affect black response and support in South Carolina and nationally.”
The inherently cursory treatment minority voters receive as a result of the location of the first two primaries may end up hurting contenders who go on to ignore them nationally—especially Republicans. As pundit Al Hunt wrote for Bloomberg View this weekend, “the white vote as a percentage of the total has been in steady decline, from 86 percent in 1984 to 72 percent in 2012. Mr. Romney won 59 percent of the white vote and still lost by four points.”
This is a “risky strategy,” says Ruy Teixeira, who studies demographic voting patterns at the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress. He noted that most of the anticipated increases in eligible nonwhite voters would not be produced by immigration but by the greater proportion of younger voters in these groups.
Hunt concluded with a quote from former president candidate Lindsey Graham: “Donald Trump today has an 81 percent disapproval rating with Hispanics. The Democrats will destroy this guy.”