Elon in Iowa

How the rules of the game are changing in a state known for political tradition

Posted January 15, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush makes a campaign stop in Iowa.

— Politically, Iowa seems to operate under the premise of two ideas. First, the Iowa caucuses are the first in the country, and from what I’ve observed, Iowans take their role in determining future presidents very seriously. Second, when engaging in political discourse it is expected to be “Iowa nice."

The Iowa caucuses have been consistently important in the American political scene. For decades, Iowans have crowded into local barns to hear presidential hopefuls pitch their platforms for a better America. And, for decades, the rest of the country has watched with excitement, and in some cases in hopes of confirmation that a particular candidate is indeed a good choice, as the results of the Iowa caucuses come in. Every four years, a campaign ends while others blossom, and a race is made more dynamic because of the Iowa caucuses.

My class had the pleasure of engaging in an impromptu Q&A session with political analyst and reporter David Yepsen. When speaking about Iowa’s importance in presidential elections, he told us, "Iowa is important because Iowa is first." When it comes to politics, Iowa is a place of longstanding customs. But, in my five days in Des Moines, I have noticed shifts in the political climate here that challenge Iowa’s commitment to tradition. Are these shifts of seismic proportions? I’m not sure. But they are definitely worth noting.

Women in politics

An organization called 50-50 in 2020 hosted a conference at the Holiday Inn we are staying at in downtown Des Moines. Currently, women make up nearly 23 percent of the Iowa legislature. The bipartisan group hopes to see this statistic change to 50 percent by 2020. The gender rules of the game are most certainly changing in local politics here. We see this trend reflected in the national political scene as well, where Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina are vying for the presidency. Both candidates have made appearances in Iowa this week.

Technology in politics

Yepsen also informed us that Iowa precincts will report caucus results via a new, untested system developed by Microsoft. While this system is expected to make vote tallying more efficient, it is still an unfamiliar aspect of the caucuses this year.

Youth in politics

The Obama 2008 campaign brought to light the importance of the youth vote and the potential this demographic has to shape elections. Because the Iowa caucuses are held in February this year, many college students at universities such as Iowa State will be back in town and eligible to caucus. Iowa’s same-day registration laws make it possible for thousands of out-of-state students to register as Iowa residents on caucus day. The youth vote may play a more significant role in the Iowa caucuses this year than it has in the past. (Note: Ironically, Iowa has one of the top five oldest populations in the country).

"Both parties are trying to determine who they are and what they are in the post-Obama era."

Finally, this election season is a transitional period for America, and by default, Iowa voters. As Yepsen’s aforementioned quote suggests, both parties are suffering an identity crisis. The Democratic Party must quell the concerns of those dissatisfied with Obama’s progress over the last eight years. The Republican Party must adjust its platform to appeal to a growing population of moderate, diverse conservatives. With both parties facing existential crisis, it is impossible to say the rules of the game in politics aren’t changing. As a result, the tactics used in the first and very important primary state of Iowa are changing as well.

I look forward to tracking how these developments play out over the course of our stay here.


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About this Blog:

Elon University students are in Iowa, covering the presidential campaign and caucuses are part of their coursework.