Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics

By Hahrie Han | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

Looking Ahead

EVERY FOUR YEARS, Iowa moves to the forefront of political news as presidential hopefuls crawl through the state in their attempt to woo voters. Given the amount of attention showered on Iowans, a myth exists that these voters are better informed and more engaged than average American voters. Iowa voters, according to this myth, are the ideal democratic citizens, engaged seriously in the deliberative process of figuring out which candidate is their favorite candidate. Media expert Paul Waldman writes in The American Prospect:

And after all, we know Iowa and New Hampshire voters aren't fickle like those
in some other states. They're serious and studious, applying their down-home
common sense and refusing to vote for anyone unless they look them in the eye
and get a sense of the person behind the politician.

Yet, as Waldman points out, the reality is that the vast majority of Iowans do not participate in the quadrennial caucuses, despite the attention given the state by presidential candidates.

If this is a typical election, somewhere between 6 and 10 percent of voting-
eligible Iowans will bother to show up to a caucus. Yes, you read that right.
Those vaunted Iowa voters are so concerned about the issues, so involved in the
political process, so serious about their solemn deliberative responsibilities as
guardians of the first-in-the-nation contest, that nine out of ten can't manage
to haul their butts down to the junior high on caucus night. One might protest
that caucusing is hard—it requires hours of time and a complicated sequence
of standing in corners, raising hands, and trading votes…. But so what? If
ten presidential candidates personally came to your house to beg for your vote,
wouldn't you set aside an evening when decision time finally came?1

Despite numerous opportunities to meet presidential candidates in small settings, despite multiple calls from various campaigns seeking to recruit

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