The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Forget Iowa. Georgia should be the first state to vote.

Voters cast ballots in Atlanta in July 2018. (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg)

Christina Greer is an associate professor of political science at Fordham University. This is the second op-ed in a series about how to improve the presidential nominating process.

No disrespect to Iowa, but new realities of American life mean that the Hawkeye state should not be the first state to hold an electoral contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Instead, the state of Georgia should receive that solemn honor.

The 30th most populous state in the union, Iowa holds the honor of being the first state to participate in selecting the president. Candidates who succeed in Iowa have a disproportionate media advantage heading into the New Hampshire primary, another homogeneous state that can set the tone for presidential nominations.

In an ideal world, neither party would prioritize a state with a population that is 90 percent white. But I am leaving the Republican Party out of this discussion since the GOP has decided to place all of its chips on a white nationalist agenda. Until Republicans deviate from this strategy — something their current leader and his party members show no signs of doing — the argument for changing locales of the first caucus state for presidential elections falls to the Democrats — the party that ostensibly should care about respecting and including its rich racial, ethnic and class diversity.

And when it comes to diversity, Iowa is nowhere near representative of our diverse nation. Former housing and urban development secretary and presidential candidate Julián Castro was one of the first of the 2020 candidates to ring the alarm pertaining to the absurdity of catering to Iowa voters every four years. Noting that it has been about 50 years since Iowa began holding its contest first, he rightly observed that “our country has changed a lot in those 50 years. The Democratic Party has changed a lot.” Iowa’s primacy distorts federal policy as well: Most obvious, politicians with presidential aspirations feel obligated to support farming subsidies that have no fiscal rationale solely to ingratiate themselves with Iowa caucus voters.

Several of my students have asked me over the years just which state should have the honor of being the first state in the nation to set the pace for the presidential nomination process. I propose Georgia. Why? Georgia is a southern state with an economically diverse population, including rapidly growing Latinx and Asian American and Pacific Islander voting blocs. These diverse groups in Georgia reflect what the nation is becoming. White Georgians’ share of the electorate had been steadily declining while the African American share had been significantly growing. Given that black women have proved to be the backbone of the Democratic Party, the increase in registered black voters should not be ignored. In the past decade, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Latinx registrants and voters have reached measurable levels, and they have begun to affect voting outcomes in local, state and national elections.

It should not be lost on Democrats that Stacey Abrams’s 2018 gubernatorial bid laid out the changing demographics of Georgia and how the state is a focal point for empowering and organizing myriad communities. Although Abrams did not win the 2018 election (I will not delve into the rampant voter suppression and disenfranchisement tactics implemented by her Republican opponent), the aftermath of that election has illuminated demographic shifts that make Georgia, with its 16 electoral votes, a state that must be a leader in national politics moving forward.

Tell us: How would you fix the presidential primary process?

Voters of color are the future of the Democratic Party. Between 2002 and 2018, voters of color in Georgia increased their share of the electorate from less than 25 percent to more than 40 percent of the overall electorate. Organizational efforts have already been implemented in the state to increase registration. Because of years-long efforts, the black registered population has increased exponentially in the past 10 years. With a population that continues to grow, expand and look more like the nation as a whole, it is imperative to treat Georgia not just as a future opportunity for Democrats but as a necessity for electoral success. As Georgia goes, so goes the rest of the nation.

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Read more:

Martin O’Malley: Want to fix the presidential primaries? Revive the fairness and equal time doctrines.

Karen Tumulty: Iowa could pick the big winner. But what's really likely is more of a muddle.

Jennifer Rubin: Do Iowans want to eliminate candidates or select a president?

Paul Waldman: Democrats’ TV ads show how they’re trying to close the deal in Iowa

Karen Tumulty: Iowa is a test of whether Sanders’s surge will endure

Helaine Olen: Democrats need to stop worrying about electability