People don’t always want to reveal what they prioritize in politics, as in life, but the caucus system is not a secret ballot. One might, for example, believe that creationism is a little vague around the edges or that affirmative action is more patronizing than effective, but thinking those things is not the same as wanting to say them to your neighbors, friends, and family, which is exactly what you have to do in Iowa. If you are an Iowan Republican who supports Rudy Giuliani, you have to stand in a crowd of people and be publicly associated with his politics – including his pro-choice, pro-evolution stances, even if those are not important to you, or you disagree with him, or whatever. In addition, if less than 15% of voters in an area support a candidate, those voters have to choose someone new to support or their vote won’t count. The 15% rule results in these disenfranchised voters being cajoled and harangued by the supporters of other candidates, often friends and neighbors, who try to convince them to join their camp. In such a system petty corruption, coercion and plain old bullying are near unavoidable.
It’s not just the caucus system that needs reform; we desperately need to revamp the whole primary system. The states which vote first have a disproportionate impact on candidate selection. Even if it doesn’t change my decision or yours that Iowans prefer Obama and Huckabee, it does change the decisions of some potential nominees sufficient that they drop out of the race early. By the time most citizens get to vote there are fewer candidates in the running, so historically someone who may have fared superbly in many states could have already been eliminated by a couple tiny states whose opinions are deemed more important simply because they vote earlier. This is another place where the caucus system fails Iowans, (and the rest of us,) because in Iowa, due to the 15% rule, a candidate with 14% of the vote in every county would still get 0% in the final tally. 14% may not seem like much, but when we’re using the early primaries as an opportunity to drum people out of the race, the difference between 14% and 0% is huge. Then we go to New Hampshire, which is about as large as my living room and less diverse. It’s absurd that the decision of those two states, which together comprise less than 2% of America’s population, would eliminate any of our options in the rest of the country. Their voting systems are not ours, and their politics aren’t either. That’s why California and several other states moved up their primaries this year. But the end result of that decision seems to be a ridiculously stretched campaign season, and it still doesn’t solve the problem; it merely changes whose votes get over weighted.
The only solution i can see is for all the states to have primaries (not caucuses), if not all on the same day, at least within a few days of each other, so that candidates aren’t summarily punted on the basis of a small fraction of the nation’s voters’ choices.