Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Turnout by Caucus-goers of Color is Critical

A lot of people talk about how few people of color live in Iowa. But turnout for the Democratic caucuses is so low (6% of registered voters) that caucus-goers of color can make a big difference.

David Yepsen at the Register had an interesting story a couple of weeks ago on racial identity and the presidential caucus/primary schedule in 2012. An excerpt:

“In this competition we have the first woman, the first African-American and the first Latino with reasonable chances of winning the White House. . . . Yet they all face questions of electability. . . Only 2 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers are black, and only 1 percent are Hispanic, according to our Iowa Poll. . . .John Edwards, the lone white guy in the top-four tier of Democratic candidates, likes to convey the impression he's most electable. Yet to do that he's got to imply that a black or a woman or a Latino is going to have trouble with some voters. While that may be true, it's not the sort of thing he or his campaign want to get caught saying too directly. . . . All this is forcing Iowa political activists to confront the darker angels of their own nature . . . . Depending on the outcome, Iowa's image could be enhanced - or trashed. . . . You can bet all that will be used against Iowa when it comes time to decide which state goes first in the 2012 campaign.”

Yepsen's full column is here.

My take: We certainly want all Iowans to consider, on the merits, which candidate is best qualified to lead America into the future. I do think, however, Yepsen discounts the potential of caucus-goers of color. The diverse group of candidates could inspire Iowa’s African-American and Latino Democrats to come to the caucuses in such large numbers that 2008 caucus turnout is similar to the demographics of the nation as a whole. Iowa has 1.9 million registered voters, but only 124,331—or 6% of the total--participated in the 2004 Democratic Caucuses. Assuming total turnout stays relatively constant, if only 30-35% of all registered Iowans who are African-American, Latino, and Asian American participate in the caucuses on January 3, 2008 (between 40-60% is standard voter of color turnout for general elections in November), the electorate in Iowa might be more like the demographics of the nation as a whole.

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