The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service held its first-ever trip to a caucus, bringing select students to Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 3 to observe the Iowa caucus.
Over the course of the four-day trip, the six students with GU Politics had opportunities to meet with campaign staff, according to Kira Macauley (COL ’20), one of the students chosen through an application process to attend the caucus. Students met with Lis Smith, the senior communications advisor for former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, and Symone Sanders, senior advisor for former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign.
At the Iowa caucus, voters at designated precincts select their preferred candidate in two caucus rounds. A candidate must obtain at least 15% of the total precinct ground to receive delegates.
GU Politics organized the trip to allow students to get a glimpse into Iowa’s distinctive primary process, according to GU Politics Chief of Staff Carly Henry.
“We considered all of the four early primary states when we decided to plan an experiential trip and felt that Iowa was really the one we wanted to focus on because of its unique caucus experience,” Henry said in an interview with The Hoya.
This year, Iowa Democratic Party officials decided to report caucus results through a new online app in an effort to simplify reporting precinct results across the state. After technical issues including WiFi shortages and overcrowded phone lines, this new reporting method caused extreme delays, according to CNN.
Watching the system fall apart after four years of planning a process to streamline reporting results was frustrating, Macauley wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“It was great to see that the new rules and procedures allowed the caucus to be more accessible and have a physical paper trail, but the incompetency of the Iowa Democratic Party to collect and verify the results quickly may affect their ability to one, go first next cycle, and two, make more changes to improve the caucus next cycle,” Macauley wrote.
Eight students enrolled in a spring 2020 government course also attended the Iowa caucus. The course, titled “Presidential Nominations Lab,” gives accepted students the opportunity to visit early contest states to study the U.S. presidential nomination system.
Over the course of their five-day field trip, the students attended conferences and candidate events and recorded data at the caucus site itself, according to Adam Ginsburg (COL ’21), a student enrolled in the class.
“The trip was exceptional,” Ginsburg wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We got the opportunity to observe presentations from top scholars in political science, see seven major presidential candidates at rallies, and attend actual precinct caucuses. The fact that we were able to marry the academic with the practical made for an illuminating experience.”
As of Thursday night, Buttigieg led in the polls with 59 counties and 26.2% of total district and state delegates, according to the New York Times. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) trailed second with 19 counties and 26.1% of delegates, with 99% of precincts reporting.
Buttigieg’s confidence was evident both leading up to the vote and in his speech waiting for the results, according to Grace Xu (SFS ’23), who attended the caucus with GU Politics.
“I think the way that he really had his victory speech planned out was very effective,” Xu said in an interview with The Hoya. “I think by having the confidence and kind of projecting hope was really effective for his campaign and his supporters because it was really just celebrating the moment of having so much support in that room.”
Prior to the caucus, students traveling to Iowa published their predictions in an article with On The Record, a publication sponsored by GU Politics, about which candidates they felt would first achieve viability among caucus attendees.
Both Xu and Grace Shevchenko (SFS ’22) ranked candidates with Sanders in the lead, followed by Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), according to the article published by On The Record.
Although she did not predict Buttigieg would come out of the caucus in the lead, Shevchenko said she was impressed with his campaign efforts.
“The people who were canvassing for him were so dedicated and he really made the campaign about them in his speeches rather than making it about himself which was really powerful for his campaign,” Shevchenko said.
In addition to hearing from many of the candidate’s campaigns, students also attended a reelection campaign rally for President Donald Trump, according to Macauley.
While the focus of the trip to Iowa was on the Democratic nominees, it was important to recognize both sides of the election, Macauley wrote.
“GU Politics believes that you can’t tell the whole story without seeing both sides, and this was one way to show it,” Macauley wrote. “We also spoke to many Iowans who said they weren’t caucusing because they were Trump supporters, hearing why they would support the President in the next election helped give us context for what’s really going on in Iowa, and understand the power of incumbency when it comes to elections.”
Beyond attending the Trump rally, students heard from the people of Iowa themselves, whether they were staunch supporters of a particular candidate or someone trying to make a decision 48 hours before they went to caucus, Henry said.
“You can see through the photos and everything they’ve posted that they’ve met some incredible people and had some real off-the-record conversations with senior political officials,” Henry said. “But what we also wanted them to get out of the trip was understanding what was going on in the sentiment of voters.”