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The real outrage about Iowa? The Democratic party silencing black voters | Karine Jean-Pierre | Opinion


The results from Iowa are in: there are no results.

On Thursday, three days after the caucuses began on Monday, the Associated Press announced that due to irregularities and how close the race is, it would be unable to declare a winner.

Confusion and a lack of information are the story coming out of Iowa right now. But there’s another story worth telling: that, no matter who wins, the results won’t be representative of the Democratic race for president writ large. And that’s because the Democratic nomination process, by starting in Iowa and New Hampshire, systematically drowns out the voices and power of black voters.

There’s no doubt Iowa is important under the current Democratic primary system. It is seen as a crucial test of electability, and in seven of the last nine contested Democratic primaries, the winner of the Iowa caucuses went on to win the Democratic nomination for president. But both the state, being predominantly white, and the type of election it holds, a caucus, actively diminish the role of black voters in the process. By continuing to allow the Iowa caucuses to hold such an influential role in the Democratic nomination process, the Democratic party is failing its black voters, plain and simple.

The first reason is one of simple demographics. Iowa is predominantly white – over 90%, in fact. The Democratic party, on the other hand, considers black voters a core constituency and relies on high turnout rates among black voters to win elections. The statistics are staggering: 85% of black voters say they’ll vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is. In the 2018 midterm elections, 90% of black people voted for the Democratic candidate versus 9% who say they voted for the Republican candidate.

Why does a political party that counts on black voters let a state where just 3.8% of the population is black have such a big influence?

Of course, the next state in the process – New Hampshire – isn’t any better (it’s actually worse – it’s 94% white). By the time the race for the Democratic nomination hits South Carolina, the menu has already been set. South Carolina’s voters, which includes a much more robust black population, are left choosing among options dictated by predominantly white states.

But demographics aren’t the only reason the Iowa caucuses are a disaster for black voters. It’s also the caucus itself. By its very nature, caucuses are undemocratic. They require would-be caucus-goers to spend long hours that many Iowans simply don’t have (or simply don’t have off work). Who has the time to participate in that process? People who can afford an extra night of childcare. People who can afford to take off work, or who work during “traditional” business hours and don’t have to even arrange to take the time off. People who aren’t managing chronic illnesses or physical disabilities that precincts haven’t accounted for. People who don’t have a parent to take care of. People who, in one way or another, are privileged.

It’s hard to think of a state and a form of voting that would do more to disenfranchise the voices of black voters in the Democratic nomination process than the Iowa caucuses. If we ordered the Democratic primaries in terms of how representative and fair they are, Iowa would be close to last. And yet, beyond logic, the Iowa caucuses somehow have more influence than any other state.

The results we do have so far confirm that leading with Iowa’s caucuses is a disservice to the Democratic party’s crucial black voting bloc. Pete Buttigieg infamously was polling at 0% nationally among black voters – but is currently neck and neck with Bernie Sanders for number one in Iowa. Meanwhile, the candidate who’s shored up the most support among black voters nationwide, Joe Biden, is doing worse than expected in Iowa, currently coming in at fourth. One of the most recent polls showed Biden winning an astounding 48% of black voters, with the second-highest candidate, Sanders, at 20%. Buttigieg isn’t quite at zero – but he was polling at just 2% of black voters in this poll.

In Iowa, we’re watching the current Democratic primary system silence black voters in real time. It’s time to put an end to it.

If the Democratic party is going to dismantle white supremacy, it can start right now by dismantling another system: its very own primary and caucus system that effectively diminishes black voters’ voices. Nothing short of creating a new system that gives black voters just as much of a say as anyone else is acceptable.

We cannot accept complacency. Not in the white voters who just don’t care enough to show up at the polls, nor in a Democratic party that won’t create a fair and democratic nomination system.

Right now, there’s a spotlight shining on Iowa. I hope we use it to illuminate the real injustice of the caucuses.

  • Karine Jean-Pierre is chief public affairs officer for MoveOn and political analyst for MSNBC, recently published her memoir Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America

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