America’s presidential primaries, explained

America’s presidential primaries, explained

In December of 2007, a US Senator named Barack
Obama was running for president. It didn’t look like he would beat the well-known
front-runner, Hillary Clinton. She was nearly 20 points ahead of him in the
national polls. But then, one month later… A huge, huge victory. Obama won the Iowa Caucus. The Iowa Caucus is like an election, but instead
of voting in a voting booth you stand with other people to be counted. It’s weird. But it’s also the very first contest in
America’s presidential primary process to determine the two major party’s nominees. And if you win it, it’s a pretty big deal. You have done what the cynics said we couldn’t
do. [cheering] Literally overnight, Obama shot up in the
polls. Winning Iowa turned him from a long-shot candidate
to a real possibility. For the last 50 years, Iowa has been a hugely
influential part of the presidential primary system. But in 2020, well… Epic failure. Meltdown of the vote reporting system. First, a bunch of technical mishaps delayed
the caucus results. Then, when the results came out, no one was
actually sure if they were correct. And it started to raise questions about whether
the Iowa Caucus deserves to be so important. The way America’s political parties choose
their presidential nominees — starting in Iowa, and then with 63 other elections
on 21 separate days — was kind of set up quickly, and without any
real thought behind the order. So… why do we choose presidents this way? And is there a better way to do it? To understand how we do things now, you have
to go back about 50 years. As recently as the 1960s, only a few states
even held primaries. Most states didn’t. And party leaders would just pick the presidential
nominee at the convention. Voters were much more divorced from the process
than they are today. This is Li, she’s been covering the 2020
primaries for Vox. At that time the people in charge were effectively
picking the people that would stay in charge Which mostly worked fine, until 1968. In the few primaries that year, young democrats
voted in big numbers for candidates who were against the Vietnam War. But at the convention, the party delegates
instead chose the pro-war Vice President. Who wasn’t even on the ballot in the few
states that actually held primaries. It did not go over well. Gas is being spread, it’s coming this way
and it’s awful. There was huge push back to that. The protests were incredibly effective and
actually ended up in the changes that we see now. What changed after that was that the Democratic
Party decided to let voters pick the nominee, with elections in each state. Republicans soon followed suit. Today the delegates from each state still
officially vote on the nominee at the convention. Arizona delivers 58 bound votes… but they have to vote according to how the
candidates did in their state primaries. To win the nomination, a candidate needs a
majority of all the delegates. And big states with big populations, like
Florida, have lots of delegates for the taking. Small states, like Iowa, have just a few. But even though it’s not a delegate powerhouse,
in the sequential primary system, Iowa has a crucial job. As do other small states that vote early in
the process, Let’s look at the 2016 Republican primary
as an example. When the Iowa Caucus kicked things off, there
were 12 serious candidates on the ballot. After Iowa, three immediately dropped out. And after the New Hampshire primary a week
later, three more dropped out. This is what those early states are there
to do. The early states end up winnowing the field
to a slate of what people might consider front runners. They help candidates generate hype, press
coverage, additional donations. In other words, instead of the rest of the
country having to choose between 12 candidates, early states help the party narrow down its
options to just a few viable candidates for the rest of the primaries. That also gives voters in these early states
a lot of power. A voter in the earliest state has five times
the influence on deciding the nominee as a voter just a few weeks later. But here’s the problem with that. So there was no real rationale in the way
that these early states were initially determined. Iowa goes first because in 1972, the first
election after the changes, Iowa said they needed a long time to compile their results. So they had to hold their caucus early. And as it held onto that spot, Iowa got more
and more important. And New Hampshire is the first traditional
primary because they have a law saying they have to be first. Yup, that’s…. it. And the questions around whether these states
should go first are not new. The main problem that people bring up over
and over again is that both states are super white. When you look at the actual numeric breakdown,
both are about 90 percent white so neither of these states is very representative of
either the US or the party itself. And that’s become a huge concern. That’s partly why in 2008, the parties moved
two more diverse states, Nevada and South Carolina, to also be early in the calendar. Then there’s Super Tuesday, which started
in the 80s when southern states decided to have their primaries at the same time to try
to have a bit more influence. Over the years, Super Tuesday has gotten more
and more super. In 2020, one third of all delegates will be awarded
on this one day. In other words, Super Tuesday has been looking more and more like a national primary. So why not just have a national primary and have everyone vote on the same day? The answer has to do with who would probably
win. If there was a national primary today,
whoever has the most money as well as the most name recognition would probably do the
best because they’re able to reach people and they already have an established backing
in place. Think about that in terms of the 2020 primary. If everyone voted on one day, and money and
name recognition mattered the most, this is who would probably come out on top. Remember that poll from December 2007? If everyone voted at once, Obama would have
lost. Which brings us back to Iowa and New Hampshire. I won Iowa because I spent 87 days going to
every small town, fair and fish fry. Both Iowa, New Hampshire, they’re very accessible. You can drive around. You can hold events. You can go to the fair and meet with voters. And also their media markets are much cheaper
than other larger states like California. Both of those factors make it easier for a
candidate who maybe isn’t that well known and doesn’t have a huge amount of money in
their pocket to also make the same type of impression of somebody else who might be,
you know, wealthier and more well resourced. So the sequential system helps narrow the
field and starting in a small state can help underdog candidates emerge. But should that state be Iowa? Why start in Iowa? Well that’s the conversation that we’ll absolutely
happen after this election cycle. There have been a bunch of different options
floated. One is to change the state that goes first. So which state should go first? The website 538 tried to figure this out by
looking at the racial, ethnic, and education breakdown of every state, to find which one
was most representative of the Democratic Party as a whole. Number one was Illinois. Iowa was 42nd. Another option is to actually just move it
so that 10 states that go in February. That kind of dilutes the influence of Iowa,
New Hampshire a little bit. And then another possibility is the idea of
rotating. They more talk about rotating regions that
would dominate the primary one year and a different region that would dominate the primary
a different year. The way America nominates its presidential
candidates isn’t set in stone. The political parties can and have changed
the process over the years, but it’s been awhile. Maybe it’s time.

100 Comments

  1. Lol okay. So Iowa had 90% white guys but they chose Obama which was crucial in his election but somehow the white population is again a problem. Good Job

  2. Can we just take a moment to appreciate how incredibly skilled the people at Vox are explaining these things. You don't even notice the probably tens of hours of thinking just going into how to have a transition play out, in what order to give all the information on the topic and what metaphors to use to best simplify all these complex topics. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Vox is one of the best things to happen to the internet, ever.

  3. I recommend Ian Shapiro's Yale lecture about how primaries are not representative of the majority of voters. And relying on national primaries to pick candidates is a symptom of weak parties.

  4. This is a fantastic process! way more democrat. Here in Brasil the nominees are chosen by the parties leaders. There are 36 of them.

  5. As a European, I can't even understand how Americans are confortable with a two party system. That's not totalitarianism, but not democracy either.

  6. I like how you clearly over look the fact that racist Democrats in the 1968 election wanted to vote for a Democrat who also supported segregation and overturning the then recently passed civil rights acts.

  7. So just because those states don't have the same racial spread as the U.S they aren't accurate to represent the country ?

  8. The problem here is not that Iowa and New Hampshire are too white – it's that Iowans and New Hampshire residents exercise more influence over primary elections than people in other states. I appreciate white people's concern with racial equity, but there's no good justification for allowing Illinois residents or the residents of any other state to exercise disproportionate influence over our primary elections. People's identities and politics are affected not just by their race and income, but by their age, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, formal educational attainment, and information-consumption practices among other things. Both identity itself and the relationship between one's identity and personal politics are complex and always subject to change. Moreover, it's always possible that some new presidential candidate or important issue on the left could divide people along lines not related to race or income. Each party in the U.S. should have a national primary day. Campaign finance reform would help us minimize the role of candidates' personal wealth and Super PACs in their election prospects. And a multi-party system would help us ensure that candidates with novel or marginal ideas have a shot at winning the presidency. To be honest, I don't think Obama's 2008 platform was all that different from Hillary Clinton's, and so I'm not all that concerned about preserving the advantage that Iowa gave him over Clinton. I'm more concerned about unconventional candidates like Tulsi Gabbard and Corey Booker getting the opportunity to share their ideas with the American public. I think a lot of the Democratic candidates for president in late 2018 (especially Beto O'Rourke, John Delaney & Tom Steyer) had platforms very similar to Joe Biden's. They took debate space and news coverage from people with novel & unconventional ideas like Gabbard and Booker. In a multi-party system, Bernie Sanders might get to share a general election race & debate stage with not just Donald Trump, but also anti-war activists like Gabbard, center-left stalwarts like Biden, and racial/economic equity policy innovators like Booker.

  9. Thanks for the informative video! Yeah, the primary process as it is is a wreck. I'm intrigued by the possible solutions brought up at the end of the video – just about any of those options sounds more reasonable than giving Iowa and New Hampshire outsize influence every election cycle. I also wish ranked-choice primary voting was the standard in all states, and by extension, no more caucuses. They're a waste of time, are an invasion of privacy, benefit the privileged, and are beholden to bullies.

  10. Iowa was a disaster because the dnc is trying to steal the election from Bernie and us AGAIN! No more caucuses. There can be a million to 1 all for Bernie and they'd be like oh it's a tie

  11. Oh my god of course there is a better way to do this… what kind of complicated system?! If voting is complicated how do you expect people to get politically involved?

  12. I was hoping you'd explain how a brokered convention would work, especially the part where someone who didn't get the most votes somehow swindles the nomination.

  13. 04:55 Why divide America into camps of colour?? That seems odd, maybe even racist? We should divide America based on our ideas and values!

  14. People really be like: why are you bringing up race?!?
    Because diversity is key in a democracy??? Because these filter states aren’t an accurate demographic and thus are disable people of color from voicing themselves?? Bruh

  15. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina should all vote on the same day and then have similar clusters of mini super tuesdays. Large states (Texas, Florida, New York, California) should be saved for the end so the strongest campaigns can actually compete and properly campaign there and they’d still have enough influence to change the election

  16. The Affiliation of US Voters: 28% Democrat, 27% Republican, 45% Independent or Other
    US Population Representation in the House: 232 Democrats, 197 Republicans, 1 Independent (Formerly Republican)
    US State Representation in the Senate: 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, 2 Independents (That have to caucus with Democrats)
    Anyone else notice the problem with our math?

    Trash the two party system. They aren't enshrined in the constitution, and usurp representative democracy.

  17. Just make it that the smallest populated states go first and the largest last because the largest will have more of the share overall so effect the end anyways and the smallest populated will allow underdogs to shine through

  18. You should take a look at some regional elections in Germany. There, the partys make lists with their candidates but you can choose who you want to give your vote(s) to. So basically you can vote for the last candidate on the list instead of the first one. But the amount of seats the party gets is still determined by the overall votes their candidates get.

  19. hi vox, interesting informative video as always. I just wonder if you guys can make a video on Malaysia’s politic. The prime minister, Tun M have been elected as prime minister for the third time. Though, there’s a whole story about it. Just thought it will be an interesting topic to discuss on. Lots of love x

  20. We should be voting on the same day. I'm getting sick of arguing over who goes first. It wouldn't be an issue if everyone voted at the same time. Use ranked choice voting so that it could still be narrowed down. I get that its supposedly for less well known candidates, however many states aren't even representative and that can change as people change.

    I live in WA idk why we even vote at all. Our primary is so late it doesn't matter. I dont think yang would have won but if a different state went first he may have performed better say on the west coast. Which could have changed at least the early dropouts.

    Picking a state to go first stacks it too. Especially when that state is white and conservative. It is a barrier to progress. If voters want to stop giving an advantage based on name recognition, they should stop voting based on name recognition and take a minute to read something.

  21. Love how democratizing this policy is in principle, but then the electoral college defeats all of that and more lol

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