Iowa voters officially kicked off the presidential selection process Feb. 1 by caucusing to decide who should represent their political party. The process continued on Tuesday when New Hampshire voters participated in their primary election. Because these early events often cause some candidates to drop out, they have a significant impact on the choices available to, among others, voter-eligible Carmel High students.
Students may be unaware of the differences between a caucus and a primary, AP Government and Politics teacher Bill Schrier explains.
“The simple difference is that in a primary, voters go to the polls and vote just like a general election,” he says. “It’s all very private and done on an individual basis. Caucuses are meetings organized by each party where voters talk about the candidates and eventually vote on the candidates, but it is all done out in the open. It is a communal activity—everyone does it together.”
Many observers question the effectiveness of caucuses. The public format may only attract the most passionate and dedicated members of political parties. Low turnout can give an inaccurate representative sample. States like Iowa also have a lack of ethnic minorities. However, caucus defenders argue that the system tests candidates in a way that primaries cannot. They also emphasize the level of civic engagement in Iowa.
So despite its unusual caucus system, why is Iowa such an influential state? Because it is the first official event in the presidential selection process, there is an inordinate amount of media attention on the event. Also, early success in the first two or three states can bring lots of money and attention to a candidate—the lifeblood of a campaign. Conversely, lack of success can cause a candidate’s financial support to wither, driving him out of the race. If Barack Obama had not won in Iowa, many commentators believe that he would not have been able to capture the 2008 Democratic nomination.
Because of this importance, many candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time in Iowa, and unlike here in California, many Iowa caucus-goers expect to actually meet the candidates.
This year’s Iowa caucus results have already shaken up the current races. In the Republican race, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz upset the predicted frontrunner businessman Donald Trump by winning 28 percent of the vote. Trump placed second with 24 percent of the vote. Hot on his heels was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio with 23 percent of the vote, according to CNN.
Schrier offers an analysis of these results: “The caucus has given Marco Rubio tremendous credibility, and in fact some of the other mainstream Republicans are turning their fire towards him because they are worried. He finished surprisingly strong in third place. That is the single most important thing on the Republican side.”
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton narrowly beat out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Her contested margin of victory was a mere two-tenths of one percent.
Again, Schrier comments, “The fact that Sanders was as close as he was is a surprise, for someone who people didn’t even anticipate as being a serious contender in the race. Hillary Clinton had better take Bernie more seriously.”
As predicted, these results have been the nail in the coffin for some candidates who failed to gain traction. Upon conclusion of the caucus, three Republican and one Democrat candidates suspended their campaigns. Depending on which candidate one prefers, the early results may already have an impact.
“The candidate I was supporting dropped out after the Iowa caucus,” junior Alex Garza laments. “I am now planning on voting for a third-party candidate.”
Senior Rachel Glover, however, will not be affected.
“The outcome of these early caucus results is not going to change my vote,” Glover says. “I plan to support the Democrat nominee.”
After New Hampshire, the next big vote will be the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus. Soon after that, 14 states will vote on a day known as “Super Tuesday.” The California primary is June 7, the first chance for eligible CHS students to vote.
Though voting day is far away, senior Cole Keller is enthusiastic about his opportunity to voice his influence in choosing the country’s path.
“This election is extremely important to me. This is my first election, I’m going to be 18 and this is going to decide which way our country goes. This election can turn our country one way or another.”