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Perspectives on the Iowa caucuses

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | APRIL 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Interminable weariness

“A new day is needed in American politics like a new day is needed in American government,” proclaimed GOP presidential-nomination candidate Mike Huckabee at the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses. “And tonight it starts here, in Iowa. But it doesn’t end here.”

No, it doesn’t: To the delight and dismay of many Iowans, the honor of first national caucus swings into the party invited but stays long after the other guests have left. While other states may be envious (and many national voters left feeling apathetic and disenfranchised), this quadrennial party may look harmless but is actually a months-long bender. After the last media sources have packed up and headed back to the coasts, the robo-calls have fallen silent, and the campaign directors have set their sights on the next social events, the state breathes an audible sigh of relief.

Because caucus season, if anything, has gotten longer over the years (this coming from a 20-something Iowa native). Since the inception of “first in the nation” in 1972, candidates have banked upon longer lead-ups and extra fundraising time to help get their names out and their sound bites heard. Instead of bickering over which state is most worthy of the first caucus or primary, perhaps our efforts would be better spent instating an acceptable length of pre-poll campaigning.

I’m still unsure if shaking hands with Donald Trump would be a blessing or a curse, and it will be interesting to see if Michele Bachmann has learned American geography come fall. But one thing is for sure: Feb. 6, 2012, can’t come soon enough.

— Kirsten Jacobsen

Ethnic homogeneity hinders representation

Many Americans consider the Iowa caucuses a good predictor of who will win the presidential nominations (at least since 1996). The nine long months of campaigning and debating following the caucuses are predicated upon its results. After all, as some say, Iowa serves as a good representation for the rest of the country — an indicator for how similar citizens will vote. But Iowa is not representative of a larger and significantly more diverse country.

Ninety-four percent of Iowans are white, and only 3 percent of Iowans are black. This is certainly not representative of other states, such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia, where the population is more than 30 percent black — or of the country overall, which is now only half white. Sure, Iowa picked President Obama (who, if you haven’t heard, is black) as the winner in the 2008 Democratic caucuses, but this doesn’t mean that Iowans are aware of, or sensitive to, the needs of minorities.

Minorities have needs and agendas that they would like addressed by their future president. Labor issues, health-care access, and education, among others, are all matters that affect the quality of minority lives. One of the biggest issues currently for the Latino population is illegal immigration and the debate surrounding it, something less influential in Iowa.

Bill Richardson, a Latino, was a Democratic presidential-nomination candidate in 2008. Iowa’s Latino population is only 5 percent. Were votes for Richardson or attention focused on Richardson lost because of this?

The minority voice and minority vote need to be recognized by America, not just the white majority from Iowa. The next Iowa caucuses will again be voted upon by a white majority.

Having the first nominations in a state with a larger minority and more diverse population may allow for those voices and votes to be heard.

— Emily Inman

Ideological imbalance skews results

Iowa is a microcosm of the United States like Michele Bachmann is the personification of conservative ideals.

Iowa’s political passions weigh heavily on its extremities — Democrats tend to lean very far left, and Republicans, well … let’s just remember that Mike Huckabee came out on top in 2008. Where else in the country can you make a 20-minute drive from a lively gay bar to a tranquil Amish village?

Voter turnout is a perpetual problem in November presidential elections, and the issue is magnified three-fold in primaries. Only 19 percent of the U.S. population participated in the 2008 primaries, and it’s easy to deduce that the 19 percent represents the most ideologically vehement American voters.

So, combine Iowa’s disparate political spectrum, remove any and all moderates, and pack them into a room to choose between moderates (with the chance to both win the general election and govern effectively) and extremists (whose rhetoric do the most to boil the blood of the most partisan of voters) and see who comes out on top with enough momentum to propel them deep into the electorate season — even if it’s somebody as philosophically divisive as Huckabee.

Iowa, with its 94 percent white population, should not be the first leg of presidential nomination. CNN’s polling center’s 2006 analysis — measuring each state’s race, ethnicity, income, education, and other factors — had Iowa in the bottom half of the country in terms of U.S. representativeness.

It should take more than arbitrary history and nonsensical state mandates for a state to host the initial, and substantially influential, nomination election, and you should agree — unless you’re an Obama supporter, in which case: Vote Bachmann!

— Chris Steinke

Campaigning focus raises awareness

I’ll be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to the Iowa caucuses until a few years ago. It became a part of my life my first year here, when I had a somewhat bizarre encounter with Kal Penn while dining at the Burge cafeteria. Although I was unaware of it at the time, Penn was there in support of Barack Obama, but in doing so, he was doing another, very valuable thing: drawing public attention to the caucuses as a whole, not just his candidate.

Instead of seeing Iowa as a so-called “fly-over state” every four years, the Iowa caucuses have the potential to draw a lot of publicity and do so with the help of some celebrity faces.

Now, I’m not saying that celebrities should have the ability to influence voter decisions. But what I am saying is this: The amount of publicity that the Iowa caucuses receive has the ability to draw attention from otherwise apathetic students, even if it requires the help of some faces other than the political candidates running themselves.

At least, that’s what caused me and the few I was surrounded with to pay attention: seeing a famous face in the mundane Burge cafeteria. Students should by no means take word-for-word what Penn or any other celebrity has to say about a certain candidate, but having them there to garner support and awareness can be a very vital tool, especially on a college campus.

Sure, celebrity endorsements may sway some of the public opinion to a certain extent, but just that initial attraction luring otherwise-apathetic students is a pretty powerful thing — and just one example of how the Iowa caucuses benefit our community.

— Taylor Casey

Caucuses are bizarre fossils

While the Iowa caucuses are supremely entertaining, they have to go.

The caucus system is a relic of a very different era in American political culture, an era we do not want to repeat. Caucuses were conducted to ensure that parties could minimize the impact on candidate selection by the general public, and the current caucus system — albeit to a lesser extent — does the same thing.

The basic structure of caucuses excludes large swathes of people. The most obvious? Those who have constrictive obligations. Caucuses are evening meetings, rather than daylong events like primary and general elections, so people who work evening shifts, can’t find a ride to the meeting at that time, or can’t find a baby-sitter do not have voices in their precinct’s candidate selection.

The solution? Direct primaries. Let the voters choose a candidate at the ballot box instead of letting party activists debate inside a high-school gym. Direct primaries started to catch on in the middle of the 20th century as the Progressive movement called for a fairer electoral process. Direct primaries have their faults, such as elevating a slightly unrepresentative electorate, but they are far superior to caucuses.

Although we all agree it’s fun for local Iowa politicos to get together for an evening, debate platform ideas and weed out third-party candidates, it is neither the most democratic nor the most efficient method of choosing candidates for the presidency. Let’s shed this vestige of electoral dominance by massive political machines and put more power in voters’ hands.

— Will Mattessich


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