D. Dowd Muska


Oranges and Casinos for Corn and Granite

June 25, 2015

It’s been said before, but it can’t be said enough: We can do better than Iowa and New Hampshire.

The first presidential caucus and primary aren’t much more than a half-year away. (Yes, yech.) And once again, initial-stage donations, media attention, and grassroots morale will be determined by two states that writer Cullen Murphy described as “profoundly unrepresentative of America as a whole.”

Racial-ethnic diversity is awfully weak in Iowa and New Hampshire. Caucasians comprise less than two-thirds of the U.S. population. (The Census Bureau predicts that they’ll dip below 50 percent in 2043.) But Iowa is 85 percent white, a share that New Hampshire surpasses by eight percentage points. Latinos constitute 17 percent of Americans, with immigration and larger families ensuring that the cohort will keep growing. The Hispanic portion of Iowa’s citizenry is 6 percent. In New Hampshire, it’s 2 percent. Crime rates are out-of-whack as well -- both states are exceedingly safe.

Farming is a small sector of the American economy. But oppose ethanol in the corn-crazed Hawkeye State, and your candidacy isn’t going anywhere. Libertarianism is embraced by a regrettably miniscule number of Americans, whereas New Hampshire, according a new analysis by the Free State Project’s Jason Sorens, ranks second (behind Montana, ahead of Alaska) in support for personal and economic liberties.

The states are at opposite ends of the nation’s birth rate. Iowa’s fertility is on the high side, while New Hampshire’s baby-making is at rock bottom. Adjust for purchasing power and tax burdens, a calculation made by the Tax Foundation’s Lyman Stone, and both first-in-the-nation states are wealthier than the median. As for age, both are older than the median figure for the entire country -- New Hampshire, substantially so. In 2011, liberal writer Daniel Denvir highlighted another glaring disparity: “Des Moines … is the only metropolitan area in either state that makes the nation’s largest 100, coming in at 90th place, with just 563,000 residents metro-wide. Manchester is New Hampshire’s biggest metro, but it’s only the 127th largest nationwide, with 406,000 people. That’s an entire metropolitan area with a population about a sixth the size of the city of Philadelphia alone, where the metro area contains nearly 6 million people.”

What we’ve got doesn’t work. What states should take over? Barack Obama’s “home” is about as closely aligned as possible with America’s racial-ethnic mix. And per capita income in Illinois is pretty close to the nation’s. New York -- home of Chuck Schumer, Andrew Cuomo, and Charlie Rangel -- is another possibility, with representative demographics and wealth.

Yet both states lean heavily to the left. In addition, they’re dominated by two densely populated mega-cities where government “transit” grabs a nontrivial share of the commuting market. America became a majority-suburb country in the 1990s, and auto-enabled mobility is the norm. Not many of us can relate to the skyscrapers and subways of Chicago or the Big Apple. (And plenty would dread living in either place.)

Perhaps the best states to kick off primary-and-caucus season should be marked by high degrees of internal migration. Florida fits that bill nicely. Late last year, the Census Bureau revealed that the Sunshine State had bested New York to “become the nation’s third most populous state.” Earlier this year, federal demographers announced that it “contained seven of the nation’s top 50 numerically gaining metro areas between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014”: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Jacksonville, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, and Lakeland-Winter Haven. Florida is neither deep red nor blindingly blue, and its whites, Latino, and blacks are roughly proportional to the national classification.

Texans might make a case, based on economic performance, for positioning their primary first. But the Lone Star State lurches radically rightward on taxes, regulations, unions, energy, transportation, guns, and the death penalty. It’s not where the country is. Nevada, reliably purple, is a preferable pick. Slot machines in grocery stores and legal brothels in cow country? Sure, the Silver State has its peculiarities. But over the last several decades, it’s the runaway winner in the vote-with-your feet competition. Race-ethnicity, birth rate, suburbanization, incomes: Nevada’s much more like the nation than is commonly understood.

Tradition, inertia, and statutes ensure that Iowa and New Hampshire will retain their special -- and undeserved -- status. You might disagree that Florida and Nevada are sounder choices for the the early presidential faceoffs. But there’s no question that the country’s changing. The way we select our chief executives should change, too.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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