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The Iowa caucuses give white people outsize power over the presidency

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Iowa exerts a huge amount of power over the American presidency. A 2011 study by economists Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff found that caucus-goers in Iowa (and their counterparts in New Hampshire) carry the same influence in determining their party's ultimate nominee as five voters from Super Tuesday states put together.

So it's concerning that the states selected to start the primary season, and wield this disproportionate influence, are among the least diverse in America:

A whopping 88.7 percent of Iowans and 92.3 percent of New Hampshirites are non-Hispanic whites; only 63.7 percent of Americans as a whole are.

Only 3.4 percent of Iowans are black; 13.2 percent of Americans are.

Unlike the rest of the country, Iowa and New Hampshire do not have particularly large immigrant populations. Only 4.7 percent of Iowans and 5.6 percent of New Hampshirites are foreign-born, compared with 13.1 percent nationwide. Only 7.2 percent of Iowans and 8 percent of New Hampshirites speak a language other than English at home; 20.7 percent of American families do.

New Hampshire and Iowa are also markedly less urban than the rest of the country; they have cities, but none are particularly big. Des Moines, Iowa's biggest city, has only 209,220 people; Manchester, New Hampshire's largest, only has 110,448.

By putting Iowa and New Hampshire first, the Democratic and Republican parties are effectively saying that disproportionate power and influence should go to a small group of overwhelmingly white people in rural areas and small cities. That influence shouldn't go to a state or region with a large Hispanic population. It shouldn't go to a state or region with a large black population. It shouldn't go to a state with large cities and a strong interest in urban issues. It should go to these people instead.

That does a profound disservice to the millions of Americans living in diverse, densely populated areas. Or, to put it more bluntly, it gives white people outsize power in determining nominees, and disenfranchises black, Hispanic, Asian Americans, and Native Americans relatively speaking.