If I could think of one word to describe the Democratic caucus process, that would be it. (It is different than the Republican one.) Standing with your neighbors, your community, discussing the issues and how to best obtain the goals you’ve set makes you feel like part of the process.
After living in NYC much of my life, I was used to primaries that didn’t matter, and elections that didn’t matter. I still voted, but I knew that my city, my state, would nearly always go a certain way. There were no close elections, and any presidential primary was nearly pointless, the candidates already decided by time they got to NYS.
Here, not only are we first, but the process of standing and lobbying like that really makes the issues matter. Sure I suppose you could go and stand by whichever one seems popular, but the buzz in the air, the talk about politics, showed that Iowans took their duty seriously. If there was an issue we were unsure of, we discussed amongst ourselves in advance and later could ask some of the people already standing with their candidate of choice what they thought.
What was really interesting, too, was the second round. For example, Kucinich said that if he is not viable, go over to Obama. But wait! Biden and Kucinich supporters realized that if they combined, they could make one viable candidate — ahh, but which way to go? And would everyone agree? And people at that point weren’t just looking for who to support, but by that time, if they moved one way, how would that influence the mainstream characters. Would Edwards mean a win for Hilary? Some people thought so. Would the Biden go to Kucinich or the other way around? Or would they go to someone else?
And then the reps from the candidates would come over and court the undecided and the non viable ones, explaining why they fit best. And you could walk around and ask who. And if you changed? CHEERS. You were like a hero, one more for the team!
No animosity towards neighbors, but a lot of education about the issues.
Given this process, I would say that Iowa caucus voters (this year a record turnout, I’ve heard) are some of the most informed voters in the country. Not only about the candidates but about what issues matter. Sometimes issues you didn’t give a second thought about had views aired by someone and you realized you didn’t even consider your stand on it.
And if you had an issue? Someone in the room probably listened to you. Sure it was casual, but to be not just a voice in the symbolic sense, but in the very real and literal sense that you spoke and people heard, was empowering. Although I do believe in private ballots for the general election, I can see where having a caucus like this leads to an informed populace and a good choice for a candidate.
The reason that Iowa caucus winners aren’t so much because we are first, but because we take our duty seriously, and have the opportunity to really hash out what matters. We’re not just pulling a lever or checking a box. We are discussing and deciding. And that’s an important part of democracy. Information as well as freedom.