WASHINGTON — Question:
Is it possible for another state to move its primary ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa? Why are those two states first anyways?
Political experts told the Verify team that New Hampshire has been the first primary since 1920, and Iowa has been the first caucus since 1972. This placement has given them an outsized role in the political process and has generated a large amount of revenue.
It's possible for another state to attempt to move their primary ahead of these two states, although they'll likely face major opposition from New Hampshire and Iowa. New Hampshire law mandates that the Secretary of State must move the primary ahead of any other 'similar contest' by seven days.
The National Party is unable to force these states to allow another one to go first. However, the National Party can also threaten to remove delegates if they do not follow a national plan.
- Capri Cafaro, Executive in Residence at American University School of Public Affairs; Former Ohio Senator ('07 - '16)
- Mark Carl Rom, Associate Professor at Georgetown University
- Andrew E. Smith, Director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center
- Title LXIII of Elections; Chapter 653, New Hampshire Law
A presidential election is still years away, but leaders in the Democratic Party are already starting to float ideas of possible changes. Recent headlines ponder whether it's possible to "dethrone Iowa," moving ahead primaries for more diverse states like South Carolina.
Democratic leaders such as South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and former Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid have both suggested this idea. The Verify team spoke with three political experts about whether this type of change was possible.
“New Hampshire got first in the nation primary by accident,” said Andrew E. Smith from the University of New Hampshire.
New Hampshire first got its first-in-the-nation status in 1920. In 1972, Iowa inched slightly ahead of the state as the nation's first caucus.
"We got it by accident," Smith said. "We have it for historical reasons. There’s not a lot of logic or thought into why we had it first other than we had it first. And once you had it. You want to keep it.”
Going first matters because candidates have realized they can gain momentum if they win in early contests. In 1976, then Candidate Jimmy Carter invested a lot of time in Iowa. When he went on to win the nomination, it set a road map for future candidates.
“These are really important events," said Mark Carl Rom, from Georgetown University. "Not only because it gives them outsized influence in selecting the presidential nominees. But there are basically as many reporters and political consultants, and staffers in the state as citizens. This brings in a ton of money."
This is why states like New Hampshire have fought back against attempts to remove its first-in-the-nation status. In New Hampshire, it's even become law. Chapter 653 reads as follows:
"The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous."
The Secretary of State is mandated under this law to move the primary if any state moves ahead of New Hampshire. This ability to change the date unilaterally gives New Hampshire a major advantage over other states that might wish to go first.
“South Carolina would have to move theirs with an act of the legislature," said Smith. "All we’d have to do then is wait until it’s too late for them to do it again, and have the secretary set the date ahead of theirs.”
The Verify team asked our experts whether the National Party could take action to mandate a reorganization of the order. Capri Cafaro from American University said their options are limited.
“Even though the party doesn’t have a direct say over when the primaries get set in law… They certainly could step up and say 'OK, we’re going to end this game of chicken. And whoever continues to do this will lose all their delegates - or you’re only going to get 3 delegates at the convention.”
Rom said that this type of action would create a lot of backlash from states like New Hampshire and Iowa.
“How this plays out in 2024," he said. "I don’t really know. But it’s hard for me to imagine that everyone is going to leave completely happy.”
So, we can Verify that the order can be changed, although dethroning states like New Hampshire will not be easy.