The Granite State Oligarchy

by Brian Solomon | 11/30/07 1:36am

"The people of Iowa pick corn, the people of New Hampshire pick presidents," said then-Gov. John H. Sununu in 1988.

While one could debate the relative merits and impacts of each of the primaries, none can question the remarkable power that these early states wield over the presidential race. A candidate who performs well in Iowa and New Hampshire gains a huge advantage over the rest of the field, with free media attention, increased fundraising abilities and a wave of popular support as people in the following primaries jump on their bandwagon.

While a strong showing, or even a win, in New Hampshire does not guarantee the party's nomination or a victory in the general election, it does have decisive significance that unfairly marginalizes the majority of the American people.

Sure, having candidates flitting on and off the Dartmouth campus for debates and town hall meetings every four years is fun and rewarding for students (especially us political junkies), but the attention we receive is ludicrous. If you did not already know, New Hampshire has less than half of one percentage point of the total U.S. population. Just 0.43 percent of a country of over 300 million individuals. Yet somehow, the Granite State holds a huge amount of influence in choosing the man (or woman) who gets to sit in the Oval Office.

Think about it. While every candidate from Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., to Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, pretends to hang on our every complaint and runs from stump speech to photo opportunity, the other 99.56 percent of the population can only wait and watch their two presidential candidates be determined before they have any say. If our Student Assembly elections worked that way, 18 lucky people would get the chance to reduce the field into just two or three candidates -- before the rest of us got more than a newspaper article on them.

New Hampshire also does not remotely represent the vast diversity of this country's racial, cultural and ideological background, according to the Census Bureau. The national average for Caucasians in a state population is 73.9 percent, but New Hampshire is over 95 percent white. African Americans and Hispanics make up only a combined miniscule 3.4 percent of the state population, while the national average is 27.2 percent. It also has a much smaller percentage of foreign-born individuals and people below the poverty level, while our median household income is significantly higher than that of the rest of the country.

The candidates certainly know New Hampshire's importance. The Democrats and Republicans pour millions of dollars into advertisements and public appearances in the state. In 2007, just through September, the candidates had already spent almost $8 for every person 18 years or older. That number will continue to rise exponentially as we approach the recently announced primary date: Jan. 8.

This flawed primary system, with its emphasis on states like New Hampshire and Iowa, goes against one of the central tenets of our democracy -- that every person can help determine his or her representatives in government. Each individual vote on its own may not effect much of a statistical difference during national elections, but we all do have a small say. Unfortunately, early primaries such as the one here cut most of the American people right out of the decision-making picture. No wonder many citizens report that they voted for the "lesser of two evils" on Election Day. They had no control over the choices.

Entering the final months of campaigning before primaries begin, first with the Iowa caucus and then here in New Hampshire, both the Republican and Democratic races are still wide open -- including a statistical dead-heat in Iowa between the three leading Democratic candidates. But look for the contest to be over in all but name well before "Super Tuesday," Feb. 5, the day when 21 states hold their primaries and the majority of Americans have the opportunity to express their opinions at the ballot box.

On Jan. 8, while we are beginning our Winter term and basking (yet again) in the national spotlight, most of America will be able to do nothing but wait and watch as a metaphorical handful of people up here in the cold decide the country's future.

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