Just the Facts

Five Facts on the Importance of New Hampshire and Iowa

By No Labels
August 13, 2019 | Blog

With the nomination process for the presidential election underway, Iowa and New Hampshire will once again play an outsized role in deciding our presidential nominees. Here are five facts explaining why. 

The current nomination process can be traced back to the McGovern-Fraser Commission – created by the Democratic National Committee – in 1969 and 1970.

Before then, party leaders were largely responsible for nominating a candidate for the general election. While there were primaries in some states, they had little impact on the nomination. The McGovern-Fraser Commission changed the system so that the votes cast in state primaries and caucuses directly select the delegates who vote for a candidate.[1]

Iowa holds the first caucus of the presidential election cycle, while New Hampshire holds the first primary.

A caucus is a meeting of party members to choose delegates, while a primary is a statewide event in which voters cast a secret ballot.[2]In 2020, 46 states will have primary elections, while 2 will have caucuses. The remaining 2, Maine and Wyoming, have yet to decide.[3]

After the McGovern-Fraser reforms, New Hampshire passed a state law that required their primary to be held before any other state’s and allowed the secretary of state to change the date of the primary to ensure its precedence. Around the same time, Iowa Democrats were trying to find a date to hold their state convention for the 1972 election. There were not enough hotel rooms available in Des Moines on the proposed date in June, so they held the convention earlier, thus pushing back the caucus. Since then, Iowa has held the earliest caucus of any state in the presidential election.[4]

Being first is a boon for Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Most candidates spend a lot of time campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, bringing a lot of attention, influence and economic development to those states. The arrival of reporters and campaign staff benefit local businesses, restaurants, and hotels.[5]In this election cycle alone, there will be an estimated 2,500 presidential campaign events in Iowa before the caucus on Feb. 3, 2020.[6]

Historically, candidates who do well in Iowa and New Hampshire have a better chance of winning the nomination.

Of the 16 non-incumbent major party candidates who have run in the general election since the McGovern-Fraser reforms, only two won their party’s nomination without winning Iowa or New Hampshire. The importance of Iowa and New Hampshire is due to the momentum candidates gain when they perform well early. For example, in the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were extremely close in South Carolina polls, until Obama won in the Iowa caucus and immediately gained a double-digit lead in South Carolina.[7]

The Democratic candidates must win 15% of the vote in a congressional district to receive any delegates, making Iowa and New Hampshire that much more important.

This rule, created by the DNC, means that only a few candidates will receive delegates in the early states. Thus, it is expected that many candidates will drop out of the race after the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, making those states pivotal in narrowing the field of Democrats.[8]


[1]https://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS125/articles/piroth.htm

[2]https://billofrightsinstitute.org/engage/student-resources/think-the-vote/primaries-and-caucuses/

[3]https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-will-democrats-move-away-from-caucuses-affect-the-2020-race/

[4]https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/05/12/everything-you-need-to-know-about-how-the-presidential-primary-works/

[5]https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/02/19/why-do-we-live-under-tyranny-iowa-new-hampshire/

[6]https://www.desmoinesregister.com/in-depth/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2019/07/11/election-2020-president-candidates-iowa-visits-caucus-warren-sanders-biden-harris-orourke-buttigieg/1575707001/

[7]https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/24/politics/2020-candidates-iowa-new-hampshire/index.html

[8]https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/05/13/why-iowa-is-so-important-this-time/

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