Iowans Feeling Excited, Concerned Heading into Caucuses

Jan 29, 2016

This year's campaign for president has defied conventional wisdom. While analysts originally looked at fundraising and previous political experience, they overlooked one thing -- the state of mind of the electorate.

Polling tells us that Americans are becoming increasingly anxious about a number of issues, including economic uncertainty, terrorism and the changing demographics of our country and our communities. NPR's Mara Liasson recently reported on how the emotions of the electorate seem to be driving the campaign on Morning Edition.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer sits down with four Iowans, two Democrats, and two Republicans, who are all planning to caucus. They talk about how they're feeling heading into the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, and how their mood is influencing their candidate preferences.

Dan Durant is a Republican who plans to caucus in West Des Moines. He's currently undecided. He has a good idea of who he doesn't support, but says he's had a hard time making up his mind because he's not hearing a lot of substance from the candidates. Durant says immigration is a good example of an issue that demands more than just posturing. "I don't always trust the rhetoric that I'm hearing from candidates because I think they have a tendency to tell us what we want to hear." "You know, Marco Rubio, I don't know where you stand because you've changed a few times. And I like Rubio, he's a sharp guy, but I need to see some consistency."

Judy Porter plans to caucus in support of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Porter is a retired schoolteacher from Altoona and says her preference comes down to experience. "I respect Senator Sanders, his energy and his passion, and I really, really like him. But I feel like his promises are somewhat 'pie-in-the-sky,'  and not doable. I just feel that Secretary Clinton has had such a good background of compromising, working with other people."

Margaret Guth is planning to caucus for Ted Cruz. The clerk in the Iowa Senate says she's eager for and passionate about the upcoming caucuses, but also a little melancholy about the culture, which is part of what's pulling her towards Cruz. Guth says she wants to support a candidate who is concerned about life above all. "If we don't address the life issue, from the most vulnerable at the beginning and at the end of the spectrum, it seems to me that everything in the middle will fall apart."

For Emma Schmit, a lot of her anxiety comes from her economic situation. She's a 22-year-old mother from Rockwell City who supports Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Schmit says Sanders' positions on economic inequality strike a chord with her because she makes $8.20 per hour. "My budget is $300 every two weeks, so I have a hard time just affording food and gas, let alone my bills. It's not easy." Schmit would like to see an increase in the minimum wage.

Jim McCormick, political science professor at Iowa State University, says he's feeling more confident about the election, after hearing from caucus-goers. He says all of the hoopla surrounding the campaign leads to a different impression of the upcoming caucuses. "These [people] really have thought about this contest and they have some really, I think, very informed opinions about why they're supporting one candidate or the other."