The Democratic National Convention voted to reorder their party’s 2024 presidential primary on February 4. The reordering included removing Iowa’s caucus from the early slate of states and replacing it with South Carolina to empower Black voters. While changes are still possible, the vote, held during a three-day meeting in Philadelphia, marks a formal endorsement by the Democratic National Committee. At least for the Democratic party, the start of the 2024 primaries will differ greatly from the 2020 primaries.
“Folks, the Democratic party looks like America, and so does this proposal,” said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison ahead of the vote.
This move means a big shift in the Democratic primary calendar. South Carolina will now have first position on February 3, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on February 6, then Georgia on February 13 and Michigan on February 27.
“The Democratic party has been facing pushback for a while on the traditional order of primaries and caucuses,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Shamira Gelbman. “The idea is to have more diverse states to better represent the party.”
Four of these five beginning states are battleground states, meaning the primary winner will have been able to lay previous important groundwork and connections prior to general elections. This holds true especially for Michigan and Georgia which both voted for former President Donald Trump (R) in 2016 and later flipped to Biden in 2020.
The only one of the newly shifted states that is not considered a battleground state is South Carolina, which hasn’t gone for a Democratic presidential candidate in a general election since 1976. Despite that, the 27% of Black voters represent a consistent base of sup- port for Democrats. Compared to the electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are both under 5% Black, South Carolina provides an opportunity for an important constituency in the Democratic party to have their voices heard.
Beyond diversity, South Carolina Democrats tend to lean more moderate on both economic and social issues. In contrast, Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats tend to be more liberal than the average Democrat. Should President Biden announce his anticipated 2024 presidential campaign, such moves would ensure that a more far left challenger would have a more difficult time gaining support in early primaries. Even back in 2020, South Carolina was key to Biden in the primaries with him winning twice of the vote of his closest competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“There’s a lot going on here, but I think the overarching story is that pre-dating 2020 there has been pressure within the party to have states that better represent the base of the Democratic party,” said Dr. Gelbman.
President Joe Biden himself advocated for the change, going so far as to write to the DNC rules committee in December.
“For decades, Black voters in particular have been the back- bone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” Biden wrote. “We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”
“Folks, the Democratic party looks like America, and so does this proposal.”DNC Chair Jamie Harrison
“It shows that the President of the United States has demonstrated his respect for and appreciation of South Carolina,” said South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, assistant Democratic leader in the House and a close Biden ally.
As for the timing of any primary changes, the right time is midway between elections, according to Gelbman.
“You’ve had the chance to get a feel for what happened last time,” said Gelbman. “But it’s far enough in advance for the next time so people can get ready for it.”
Party leaders from both Iowa and New Hampshire appealed to the DNC before the vote, but to no avail. The reputation of Iowa’s caucus abilities took a hit in 2020 when the results were severely delayed due to technical issues and reporting problems. The changes may not last, however, as the DNC has already committed to revisiting the voting calendar prior to the 2028 election. The new calendar could prove largely pointless for 2024 as Biden’s expected run for a second term will likely be without any major primary challenger. Yet, what seems to be important for many Democrats is the precedent this decision sets.
“Here’s the reality, no one state should have a lock on going first,” said Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell.