One can learn about the primaries in a classroom or a textbook, but a group of 13 students took a firsthand look at the process of the first primary on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
The group from the Voting and Elections class and two professors observed the Republican Caucus in Coralville, Iowa on Tuesday night, seeing around 800 citizens vote for their candidate for president.
“I thought it was a great experience. It was empowering to say the least,” senior Karl Bair said. “The way they do it in Iowa, you really felt like you are making a difference and they really hammer that in.”
The supercaucus in Coralville, which gets its name by joining the city’s six precincts, was held in a large conference hall. The hall was filled with citizens, visitors, the press and many children.
The caucus was delayed as organizers brought out more chairs to a standing room only crowd that reached record numbers for the Republican primaries in Johnson County.
The night started with speeches from representatives of most of the candidates, which varied in subject matter. Some attacked other candidates in the race and some stated platform ideas.
Viewing the caucus first hand provided excitement and a quick understanding to the students who visited.
For Bair, an Indiana resident, the Iowa caucus gives him a sense that an individual’s vote feels more important for two reasons.
“One part of that is definitely because of how late Indiana votes. By that time delegates are almost always decided,” Bair said. “[Secondly,] There isn’t that sense of communal duty to go vote.”
After all the votes were cast for the nomination, many of the citizens stayed to become delegates for the county level caucus and create platform topics that could possibly become state party positions.
While Mitt Romney won the state by only eight votes, in the Coralville precincts Romney beat Ron Paul by 59 votes, with Rick Santorum finishing third, according to the Press-Citizen in Johnson County.
“It’s really interesting that [the caucus is] initially a contest of perceptions,” junior Anna Novikova said. “So you don’t win the Iowa caucus by winning in the traditional sense because it doesn’t actually tie directly to how many delegates you get at the national convention from Iowa. You win by exceeding expectations.”
For Novikova, there are positives and negatives for the importance that the caucus is given in the media.
Many of the students were excited to see the communal aspect of the caucus.
“The most interesting thing for me was the contrast between the caucus and the primary, how much more of a social aspect there was to the process,” junior Jamie Ruml said.
The caucus style gives voters the chance to become politically active during the same event as voting for the nominee, which is different from polling primaries that are in a majority of the states, including Illinois.
“For it to be this social thing where a lot of the people decide at the last minute or might be influenced by their neighbors,” Ruml said, “ … raises a lot of good questions about democracy and what the best way of carrying it out is.”