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  • Writer's pictureReid Stevens

What Iowa Has Taught Me

As a member of the Iowa Caucus Project, I have learned several important lessons about politics, people, and myself. Here are my top 5.

5. Politics is still a personal game

Growing up in a small, politically irrelevant town, I always understood the importance of voting. Still, I never felt that any politicians cared about my vote. But after going around the state, seeing candidates talk to crowds from under 30 people to hundreds of people from all kinds of stages of life gave me hope that politics is still a game of connecting with the people that a politician hopes to represent, not simply collecting online date to bombard people with ads on social media, even if there is a lot of that too. Politics is still a grassroots game; you must know where to be. I have spoken with several candidates and would have even more if not for some scheduling and location conflicts. But I know where to go if I ever need to get personal with a candidate because I have a question or a strong policy opinion. 

4. People are more similar than most would believe

Interviewing caucusgoers meant meeting people from all over Iowa who check off nearly every demographic box. Yet they’ve all come to the same place, and by joining them– for the good of politics, the welfare of the United States political system, or Iowa’s status as a political hub, or whatever a person’s motivation is– you learn that while different reasons or circumstances brought you both there, but you are both there to defend or support what is important to you. Once both parties know this, it becomes far easier to conduct business cooperatively. Thus, talking to strangers became easier because while I couldn’t say I was at an event to support their candidate, I would tell them, “I’m here to support Iowa.” Then, I successfully created connections, and people were more honest and personal in interviews. They even introduced me to other people they knew, which gave me even more information to work with to continue promoting the caucuses. 

3. To be successful, details matter 

Political candidates need to have their details down pact. After an Iowan sees a candidate sees a candidate more than once or twice, the events begin to blend, meaning the small things can stick out. Sound issues, bad venues, messing up their answer to a question, or part of their stump speech, even if it’s a minor screw-up, will not go unnoticed. So what do the candidates do? They go through their routines so often that it becomes second nature like they are actors in a play. Iowans go beyond surface-level observations, such as claims made in campaign ads and seeing that the candidate traveled to Iowa, and instead, ask them how they will achieve their goals and going to see them in their city or town. To be successful, just pretend like you’re doing something for the people of Iowa because they will scrutinize your work until they’re happy, which is a lesson I have considered for my work. 

2. Achieving a mission requires everyone to be on board

The Iowa Caucus Project hosted our own Mock Caucus at Drake University in November, which was a large project that needed many moving pieces to be in place, from organizing the catering, reserving the space, getting the word out, and getting guest speakers. Accomplishing this relatively short time required everyone to decorate, set up chairs, welcome participants and guests, and so on. Yet, no matter how well-planned things are, new obstacles may appear. The weather was spotty on the night of Drake’s caucus-before-the-caucuses, which kept some at home. In contrast, others had difficulty finding the event space. But no matter what difficulties presented themselves, people were ready to face them head-on and worked to do so until the opening speech. Because of this, we had another successful Mock Caucus at Drake University, keeping the tradition alive, a theme we hope to continue spreading throughout Iowa. 

1. The only way to understand is to do

The only way to truly understand what someone is going through is by walking a mile in their shoes. Like many, I have often heard this quote related to empathy, personal relationships, and character. However, I had never considered that it is also true in Academia. The Iowa Caucuses can easily be read about in news articles. Still, many who limit themselves to that don’t understand the caucuses and why they are so important. When studying the caucuses by living them, you notice the details, build relationships, challenge your personal beliefs, and play a more prominent role than most Americans in determining the presidential election's outcome. If I never lived in Iowa and went through the caucus cycle, I would never have understood that, even if I did know the difference between a Democratic and republican caucus and why candidates so frequently hold events at Pizza Ranch restaurants. But something would be missing,  a combination of the previous items on this list: the humanity or personal aspect that separates an Iowa Caucuses guru from an Iowa Caucuses expert.


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