Will This Be the Last Time?

February 3, 2016 11:41 a.m.

For all the talk about South Carolina and Nevada and all the rest, Iowa and New Hampshire still play a massive, massive role in the presidential selection process. The generally accurate conventional wisdom is that Iowa has extremely conservative conservatives and extremely liberal liberals. I was just hearing some pundit on TV explaining how Iowa’s conservatives are more weighted towards evangelicals while New Hampshire’s have a more libertarian hue. All true, as far as it goes. But there’s one overwhelming reality about these two states: everybody is white.

Not everybody, of course. But pretty close. Let’s look at the numbers.

According to 2014 Census estimates, African-Americans made up 3.4% of the population in Iowa. Hispanics made up 5.6% of the population. Asians were 2.2%. In the country as a whole these three groups make up 36% of the population! In Iowa they amount to barely more than 10% of the population.

New Hampshire manages to be whiter still. African-Americans: 1.5%, Hispanics 3.3%, Asians 2.4%. So 7.2% vs 36% in the country at large.

I don’t want to suggest that I’m the first to note this. People have been making this point for decades. But the perceptions change. And more importantly, realities change. I remember having a conversation about this very topic in a blizzard in New Hampshire in January 1988. But the truth is that the country looked a lot more like New Hampshire in say 1980 – in demographic composition – than it does today. The divergence has become much starker.

If there’s something special about New England states with minuscule populations, give Rhode Island a crack. It’s still a bit whiter than the nation at large. But it’s dramatically more diverse than New Hampshire. With Nevada and South Carolina, yada yada yada, but the die is frequently cast by the time the race gets there.

I would also say that the Democrats have a much bigger problem here than Republicans do. Let’s be honest: The GOP is an overwhelmingly white party. The GOP electorate in Iowa is not going to look that different than it does in New York or Ohio. That’s not so for the Democrats. In the early 21st century, the Democrats are a multi-racial party. Whites make up only the slenderest majority of the Democratic coalition – just a few percentage points over 50. So Democrats are making their key winnowing decisions with what is essentially a lily white electorate when racial minorities make up roughly half their national coalition (maybe more). That strikes me as frankly untenable. Not just in the sense of me saying “That’s untenable!” but it being literally untenable. As in, I don’t think that’s going to be sustainable for much longer, nor should it.

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