How did the small US states of Iowa and New Hampshire get to be the very important first two US presidential caucus and primary voting states?
#121651. Asked by star_gazer. (May 30 11 4:52 PM)
It's a little more complicated than that. Generally, political parties didn't support primaries because state party leaders wanted to go to the national convention and be free to make deals with any candidate. |
New Hampshire had conducted a presidential primary since 1916, on traditional Town Meeting day of the second Tuesday in March. In 1916, it was third in the nation, but starting in 1920, it became the first in the nation. No one cared, because turnout was very low (under 30% in both 1944 and 1948). To increase turnout, New Hampshire decided to change its presidential primary format to a nonbinding "beauty contest" with a low threshold for getting on the ballot. Immediately thereafter, in 1952, Eisenhower beat Taft and Kefauver beat Truman in the NH primary. Both Taft and Truman abandoned their campaigns, making this primary a huge event. NH then argued that the fact that it had had the first primary in the nation since 1920 should enable it to remain the first primary in the nation; the primary became binding in the 1970s.
The Iowa caucuses have a more complicated history. They go back to even before the NH primary, to the 1800s. Basically, they simply chose delegates to move further along in the system. No one had any idea who "won", and winning was meaningless anyway, since delegates weren't chosen. But in 1976, Jimmy Carter's operatives provided a caucus-night tally to the press showing that Carter had outpolled every other candidate except "Undecided." That gave Carter favorable press that sparked him to a win in NH. And so most candidates decided that they had to emulate Carter to win -- even though the actual Iowa presidential delegates aren't actually chosen until June.
Because of the long tradition of both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary being first BEFORE they became media-relevant, the two states will do almost anything to defend their positions. In 2008, that meant holding the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the NH primary on January 8.
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