For those who don’t spend their lives glued to C-SPAN, U.S. elections can be a crazy, confusing thing. Even if you do understand how the Iowa caucus and other presidential primaries play a part in getting someone elected president, the 2016 presidential election so far has been wilder than most.
There are multiple research paper topics to explore in Presidential politics, from understanding how our election process works to ways it could be improved.
Explaining the Iowa caucus
First things first, the Iowa caucus is different than a primary in another state. Instead of “pulling a lever” to vote, caucus goers gather at a site, probably with other precincts. Once they vote, the state party, not the state’s election office, will report to the media the vote count. However, at this point, how the Iowa caucus is run depends on the political party.
David Weigel explained the process in “Here’s how the Iowa caucuses work” for the January 23, 2016, issue of The Washington Post. Republicans gather, hear speeches meant to sway their vote, and then write their choice on a slip of paper. Democrats make things a bit more complicated. They go to designated sites, and gather into areas for each candidate. Each candidate’s group is counted. “If one candidate fails to get at least 15 percent of voters in his corner, they are released, and caucus captains for the surviving candidates can personally lobby and answer questions, enticing them to join up. After that, delegates are assigned based on the support for each candidate,” Weigel wrote. A research paper could explain how the process began in the first place.
The importance of presidential primaries
With only six electoral college votes (Texas has 38), why does it even matter what happens during the Iowa caucus? In the 2016 presidential election, like all U.S. elections, perception matters. If a candidate does well in the early presidential primaries, it builds momentum for their campaign.
U.S. News & World Report’s Lindsey Cook shared “Why Iowa Matters in Presidential Elections” in a January 21, 2016, post for the paper’s Data Mine blog. She wrote, “In politics, momentum is king. If a candidate doesn’t place highly in the early states, support and dollars typically begin to dry up, which means that Iowa often is successful at winnowing the field. In a race with many candidates, like the 2016 contest for the Republicans, how a politician fares in Iowa can determine whether he or she will remain on the ballots for the rest of the U.S.” How successful the Iowa caucus or other early presidential primaries have been in determining the ultimate winner in U.S. elections is a research topic to explore.
Changing U.S. elections
Does the whole process need improving or fixing? And if so, what would that look like? The Autumn 2010 issue of The Wilson Quarterly addressed that topic in “Fixing the Presidential Primaries.” To start with, many people are not happy that the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary (both smaller, less diverse states) play such an important role in our 2016 presidential elections. Some people would like a national primary. One problem with this approach is it doesn’t give lesser-known candidates, who lack lots of money, a chance to gain attention the way the current system does.
The Wilson Quarterly article recommended an approach offered by political scientists, Caroline J. Tolbert, Amanda Keller and Todd Donovan that would “Begin with a dozen primaries or caucuses in small-population states to allow unknown candidates a chance to prove themselves, but let these contests decide only a “tiny” number of these states’ delegates to the nominating conventions. In essence, let these early contests be straw polls. Then, when that phase is completed, hold a national primary.” A research paper could examine other possible solutions for the current presidential primaries process.
How do you think the 2016 presidential election differs from previous U.S. elections? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.